What is the tone in the poem "A Blessing" by James Wright?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"A Blessing” by James Wright resulted from an experience with his friend Robert Bly. In Bly's memoir, he recalls the scene:

“Just south of Rochester, James saw two ponies off to the left and said, ‘Let’s stop.’ So we did and climbed over the fence toward them….they glowed in the dusk, and we could see it.  On the way…James wrote in his small spiral notebook the poem he later called ' A Blessing.'”

How interesting to know what brought this lovely poem to life!

The tone of the poem is ethereal. The quality of the poem is other worldly because of the twilight and aura of this unusual scene.  The loneliness of the horses is duplicated in the poet's heart.  He feels overwhelmed as he acknowledges that the mare seems to be drawn to  him.  

Normally, the horses would run from the intruders into their territory.  This time it is the reverse. The horses run to greet the poet and his companion. Joy and happiness enter the heart of the poet as he perceives that the horses welcome them into their world.  Obviously, the horses have been ignored by man for too long.

We step over the barbed wire into the pasture

Where they have been grazing all day, alone.

They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness

That we have come.

Summary of poem

At dusk, the poet and his friend see two pinto ponies who have come out from a wooded area to greet the men.  The men go through the barbed wire fence into the pasture where the horses are  eating alone.  The image of the rippling muscles of the horse indicate pleasure in the men coming into their world. The reader shares the feelings of the poet as he enters the pasture.

The imagery continues with a simile comparing the horses bowing their heads like two swans who touch heads and form the shape of a heart. It is obvious that the horses are companions, yet they long for human attention. Comfortable with the men, the horses begin to eat the spring grass.

The poet observes the horses, and he feels the need to hold the slender, black and white mare who walks toward him . He is captivated by the mare and compares her to a woman.  Her ear is the soft skin on a woman’s wrist. The wind blows the mane of the horse on her forehead. 

The man is so moved by the experience in his heart he can barely contain his joy.

…if I stepped out of my body I would break

Into blossom

This powerful image and metaphor show the beauty of the moment and the sensitivity of the poet. It replicates the splendor in nature. The blessing is the totality of sharing this brief moment with the animals that long for the men’s company.

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