I'm reading Bly's book of poems Stealing Sugar from the Castle. I cannot understand the title of "Love Poem in Twos and Threes". Does "in Twos and Threes" mean small groups of people or something else?

The poem goes:

Love Poem in Twos and Threes

What kind of people
Are these? Some stammer
Of land, some
Want nothing but light—
No house or land
Thrown away for a woman,
No ample recklessness.
How much I need
A woman’s soul, felt
In my own knees,
Shoulders and hands.
I was born sad!
I am a northern goat
Of winter light,
Up to my knees in snow.
Standing by you, I am
Glad as the clams
At high tide, eerily
Content as the amorous
Ocean owls.

I'm also confused about the meaning of "stammer / of land". Does this mean some people stammer when they say the word "land"?

The words seems simple but the whole poem is difficult for me. Please help me understand this poem, thanks!


1 Answer 1


“In twos and threes” refers to the rhythm of the poem. The poem has no fixed pattern of stresses, but when I read it, each line has either two or three stresses. Most lines have two:

What kind of people
Are these? Some stammer
Of land, some
Want nothing but light

But a few have three:

A woman’s soul, felt

Up to my knees in snow.

At high tide, eerily

As for “some stammer of land”, one of the meanings of “stammer” is

stammer, v. 2. To utter or say with a stammer.

Oxford English Dictionary.

and so the poet means that the kinds of people who talk of land as preferable to women do so with a stammer. This seems to me to be a kind of derogation, the poet expressing mild contempt for these peoples’ views by making them speak disfluently.

  • I think you're right about the meter, but do you know other examples where this form of verse is referred to as "twos and threes" or something similar? Or is it terminology that Bly made up?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 3, 2021 at 12:24
  • @StuartF As far as I can tell, the form and terminology are original to Bly. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 14:42

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