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A Little Book on the Human Shadow

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  1,448 ratings  ·  109 reviews
Robert Bly, renowned poet and author of the ground-breaking bestseller Iron John, mingles essay and verse to explore the Shadow -- the dark side of the human personality -- and the importance of confronting it.
Paperback, 96 pages
Published 1988 by Harper
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King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert L. MooreThe Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellIron John by Robert BlyA Circle of Men by Bill KauthA Little Book on the Human Shadow by Robert Bly
A Circle of Men
111 books — 20 voters
Carl Jung by Claire DunneJung by Barbara HannahThe Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellJung's Map of the Soul by Murray B. SteinThe Dream and the Underworld by James Hillman
99 books — 48 voters

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Sep 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2011, poetry, reviewed, essay
If this were instead "a Medium-sized Book on the Human shadow," things may have been more clear but, then, they'd probably be more annoying, too.

Bly is not a gentle (note the space) man. He is a bull. In a way, he's the perfect person to talk about the Human Shadow, because he's living proof of its existence. But I suspect he doesn't even have a clear idea how he's managed to "eat his [own] shadow" and so who is he really to advise us? Well, again, he's a bull - that's who. He's got a resonant,
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
This book is a fabulous resource for my Jungian Psychology research paper on the shadow. It explores various components of the shadow in a very accessible manner. Bly offers essentially what I would call a great dialogue on the shadow, interspersed with his poetry. One chapter is even an interview between Bly and his editor Booth. I really feel like I just sat down with these two men and listened to a beautiful conversation about this complex idea. I call it complex primarily because the shadow ...more
John Rogers
May 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Simple: This book should be required reading for every human. It concisely describes the most powerful human decision making engine, which our culture refuses to acknowledge, the shadow, which has been identified as the "id" and "super-ego" by Freud and the "collective unconscious" by a smarter guy named Carl Jung, who was one of Freuds students, but discarded all the psychosis of Freud and framed it in a far more intuitive way.

Bly, a great poet/writer, describes the power we project onto other
May 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Robert Bly has this wonderful Jungian lens through which he sees the world. Here he is discussing the subconscious mind, which he represents with the metaphor of the shadow. The book is distilled from three or four poetry readings he gave in the 1970s. He wants us to be in touch with our dark side, meaning the subconcious. The metaphor of the shadow he sees is also a bag in which we are forced to put every personal attribute not desired by our parents, who want us to be only "nice." Yet we are e ...more
Vinni Dalpiccol
Apr 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, the-good-life
This book’s foreword starts by saying that the reader should not go on unless he is willing to change his life. It mentions a warning from Jacob Boehme before one of his books saying that going on not willing to make changes will make the book bad for him.

It is appropriate, and even for that foreword alone, the book would already have been a worthy read. Why do we read, if not to change our lives? To examine ourselves from different perspectives and act on them? Our shadow is that thing we (well
Shahine Ardeshir
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The idea behind this little book is, essentially, that we all have a shadow to our personality, a dark side where we repress things about ourselves that we don't like. The longer we ignore it, the more powerful can get and (in a sense) the less psychologically whole we are.

The book uses metaphor, poetry, and references to writing and popular culture to expand on that idea, and touches upon how we may identify and start to own our own shadow. The reason I loved it so much is because the idea res
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews, vib-lounge
`One of the things we need to do as Americans is to work hard individually at eating our shadows, and so make sure that we are not releasing energy which can then be picked up by the politicians, who can use it against Russia, China, or the South American countries.`

This is a little gem of a book. Although written in the 80`s it seems to be a timeless classic.
My new favorite poet, Robert Bly, and another Savior of a book—a psychological poem on the human shadow.

My shadow bag is dense with unconscious mud; and I do, like everybody else, practice random mud-slinging (projection) on daily basis. This book taught me how and where to aim, redirecting my overworked slinger back to the one responsible—the one holding it!
Mar 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grow
This book is thought-provoking, and I'm glad I read it, and thought of about ten people who I wanted to ask to read it so I could discuss it. At 90ish pages you can get through it in about an hour or two, and the ideas within it are worth having running through your mind as you look at the world. All that being said, I'm looking forward to rereading it when I have a better understanding of Jung's actual writings on the shadow; the 'definitions' of it in here I find a little bit reductionist. And ...more
Aug 17, 2007 rated it did not like it
Bloviant. I am making up that word just for this book.

Coarse opinions masquerading as poetic depth.

When a poet has a stupid personality, it shows. Every bloviant detail. This book exposed more superficial opinions and obtuse viewpoints than I could bother to digest. It exposed me to the fact that the scholarly Mr. Bly is indeed not at all well read.

I especially love the long passage in chapter four, in which the author ravages "generalizers" (a general term for God-knows-who). He has so much ine
Sherif Nagib
Jul 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
I strongly believe the title to be deceiving. Expected a lot more & was disappointed . Had to sift through pages and pages of poetry, Politics in 80's America, and Wallace Stevens, to find something I could make sense of. I understand why so many people appreciate it, but to me it was a huge pile of unrelatedness. ...more
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Half of the time I understood and appreciated the parts about facing your shadow.
The other half I had no idea where Bly was going.
Sumit Pal
Sep 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
Was the least impressive/impactful of all the books on shadow that I've read. Filled with poems and abstraction which even for a book on shadow is overwhelming. Multiple references to other poets and other works by the author themselves only decrease interest as the book goes on. The new ways of looking at the shadow are novel but questionable as they are described as a hodgepodge of multiples schools of thought. The biggest takeaway from the book is the interview section.
K.M. Weiland
Oct 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is indeed a little book, but packed full of interesting psychological insights from the unique (but unsurprising) viewpoint of a poet. Chock full of thought-worthy ideas.
Andrea Paterson
Highly variable in its readability. I found some of the text too convoluted to read. The sections on anger and the shadow in the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Rilke, and Yeats were compelling. A central idea that shadow material must be LIVED, not just brought to light, was quite interesting and worth musing on further. Since the political context of Bly's writing is mostly unknown to me, I think I may have missed some of his points. There were some questionable theories in the section on projectio ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This little book was a real joy to read and absorb. There is a lot to take in here and to use, because in these pages it is said several times that when you look into the shadow self, the long bag of shadow you drag behind you, you must change due to the encounter of it. This is very true. We broadcast out our insecurities and our hate and anger to others based on our shortcomings. Shortcomings, fear and many other things are our shadow. The shadow of the human is not evil, though it can be. Wha ...more
May 22, 2020 rated it liked it
The concept of our dark sides emerging as we age and being projected onto other people is an interesting one... but I think trying to explain “the shadow” through psychology is an inherently flawed approach. How can the mind explain something intangible? The poetry used throughout was the best way to understand what the author was trying to say but that’s because good poetry doesn’t come from the mind. Anyways don’t give me your witch, motherfucker.
Simon Stegall
Nov 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I scrawled "WTF" in many margins of this book: mostly the ones where Bly was wearing his psychoanalyst hat. But when he spoke as a poet, about poetry, about Wallace Stevens' poetry in particular, it was insightful and ripe and I learned quite a bit.

A mixed bag. Good thing it was only 80 pages.
Nairy Fstukh
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, jung-read
Bly discusses shadow work in true Jungian spirit. Reads like a chat over a glass of wine remembered for a long time.
Morgan Blackledge
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved It
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is remarkably small for the amount of good knowledge in it. Not a difficult book to read, but certainly not easy to understand.

The book talks about the part of us we tend to deny ourselves and the world from experiencing it. It is not difficult to see how much of our being we repress from our lives, specially the instincts with “tails and lots of hair”, meaning the most “primitive“ side of ourselves. In our civilized, religiously raised world, the meaning of the world primitive is usually
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In many instances it reminded me of Tanya Wilkinson’s Medea’s Folly and I wonder if this might have been part of the inspiration for her book. If you liked this, definitely check out hers. One of the strongest components of the work was how accessible it was. Bly does an excellent job of explaining and describing the shadow in a way that is resonant and can be easily accessed. Additionally, I found his sympathetic description of projection as mildly brilliant, as ...more
Feb 04, 2012 rated it liked it
There are so few books on the shadow and this one helped me understand the concept much better. It also helped me figure out some ways to figure out where my shadow might lie and how to reintegrate it. I love that Bly points out that in our culture we tend to assume the only alternatives are expression or repression. If our shadow is anger or sexuality going the way of complete expression may be dangerous and hurtful to others, for example. Bly offers a third option beyond total expression or re ...more
Peycho Kanev
Feb 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Just like the magazine published by Robert Bly was typical for the 60’s, so and his poetry expresses his troubles and problem about this decade. The personal troubles and problems of the society. Bly not only attacks what he considers as tyrannical literary line, but he merciless reviews the nuclear projects and the war in Vietnam.
The tirelessly attempts of Bly to renew the American poetry and to bring it near to the achievements of the Hispanic poetry has some considerable success. Within his
Ben Chapman
Jun 20, 2017 rated it liked it
The book deserves more than a quick review, but I've only got a few minutes, so here goes:

* I prefer his poetry, most of the time, to his prose.
* He actually made me like Wallace Stevens's poetry even more.
* Much of the book seems dated and it does feel like it was adapted (as it was) from a series of talks or presentations. One of the most successful chapters is the one that is actually in the form of an interview.
Bryon Brandt
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you run from a Ghost he will chase you forever.
But if you turn and face him, he will disappear.

My major take-away from this book was:
On the one hand there is the part of us we like to brag about, and
On the other hand there is the part of us we prefer to hide.

And when you get to the point that you can talk about one hand, as easily as the other,
you are well on your way to Health, Healing, and Happiness in your life.
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
I like Bly's little poem about the shadow I found in this book.

The Moon

After writing poems all day,
I went off to see the moon on the piney hill.
Far in the woods I sit down against a pine.
The moon has her porches turned to face the light,
but the deep part of her house is in darkness.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
Started out promising - have a poet interleave his poems with essayistic bits. Unfortunately, there is not much enlightening here... vague, somewhat woo and mostly meant for people versed in this particular psychoanalytics-flavuoured new age-y humdrum.
Qiaochu Yuan
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I want to like this book more because I think the shadow is really important, but I just don't like the actual poetry in it very much.
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
On a whim, I read A Little Book on the Human Shadow. It's very short, and it felt very much worth my time.

It's a pretty even split: I felt indifferent about a third of it (mostly the poetry commentary), I wasn't interested in another third (very specific to US American culture, and of a certain time or generation), and the last third was extremely useful and interesting. As it's a very short book, I count that as a win.

Here's what stood out as helpful in his notes on shadow work:

- Projecting you
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Robert Bly is an American poet, author, activist and leader of the Mythopoetic Men's Movement.
Robert Bly was born in western Minnesota in 1926 to parents of Norwegian stock. He enlisted in the Navy in 1944 and spent two years there. After one year at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he transferred to Harvard and thereby joined the famous group of writers who were undergraduates at that time, which i

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