(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“Blackwater Mountain” begins with a powerful evocation of a landscape recalled and reconstructed from memory, the setting heightened and deepened by the play of the poet’s mind on the elements of the natural world and on his relationship with an important person in his life. Like many of the poems in Hard Freight, “Blackwater Mountain” is rooted in a relived past, built on an autobiographical impulse which depends on a kind of memory that Wright has defined as “the invisible end of a vanishing rope” and an autobiography which develops through “fragmental accretions.” The first of three stanzas—“This is what I remember”—presents the phenomena of the natural world as a display of sensory excitements, a tableau of sound (“When the loon cries”) and light (“when the small bass/ jostle the lake’s reflections”), which transforms the terrain into almost a sentient entity (“When lily and lily pad/ Husband the last light”) that the poet responds to with a deep sense of pleasure.

Then, shifting the focus toward a distinctly personal perspective, the poet addresses his companion, continuing to use details to make the person real (“The moon of your face in the fire’s glow”) and his own reactions poignant (“Young,/ Wanting approval, what else could I do?”) both in recollection and in recreation. The frustration of his inadquate response is emphasized by his thoughts of a “thicket as black as death,” where he struggled “Without success or reprieve” to act in accordance with some expectation he could not satisfy. The final stanza is a drawing back from the immediacy of the moment, recapitulating an important event now shadowed by the passage of time, with the details of the present establishing the link to the past, “a black duck” which “shows me the way to you,” and then “shows me the way to a different fire,” symbolized by the “black moon” that illuminates a dark vision fusing eras that overlap in the poet’s consciousness.

Blackwater Mountain Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Andrews, Tom, ed. The Point Where All Things Meet: Essays on Charles Wright. Oberlin, Ohio: Oberlin College Press, 1995.

Bourgeois, Louis. “An Interview with Charles Wright.” The Carolina Quarterly 56 (Spring/Summer, 2004): 30-37.

Wright, Charles. Halflife: Improvisations and Interviews, 1977-1987. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988.

Wright, Charles. Quarter Notes: Improvisations and Interviews. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.