“A Blessing” is a visionary nature poem; it begins with a careful description of the natural world, with the speaker’s gradual immersion into that world, and then moves suddenly and unexpectedly to a moment of spiritual revelation. At first, the speaker is caught up in the mundane world of human activity; he has been traveling on “the highway to Rochester, Minnesota.” Yet something has caught his attention, has led him to pull over and to get “off” the highway. He and his friend have seen the two Indian ponies, and they begin to leave the human world of highways and cities and enter the natural world, the world from which twenty-first century Americans are typically estranged. Human alienation from nature is the starting point of this poem, and the capacity to undo that alienation is its topic. The boundary between the human world and the natural world is of central concern, and images of crossing boundaries are frequent. In the second line, for example, the twilight “bounds softly forth” on the pasture grass, but it would seem that the ponies, and not the twilight, are doing the bounding forth. Already boundaries are blurring. As the speaker and his friend “step over the barbed wire” fence and cross into the pasture, their movement into and participation in the natural world become clearer.
Often nature appears indifferent to human beings, and animals are typically fearful of people. In this case, however, the natural world as embodied in the ponies approaches the speaker with what seem to be feelings of welcome and happiness. The speaker is delighted by the ponies, yet he recognizes what, in human terms, one would call their “loneliness.” That is, to human beings living in society, playing socially prescribed roles and understanding themselves and the world in terms of that social network, anyone who is not a part of that social network must be “lonely.” Henry David Thoreau in his hut on Walden Pond or a religious mystic living alone in the desert is “lonely” as these ponies are. Yet this “loneliness” is not the frightening thing that most people think it is. The ponies “love each other,” and they are quite “At home” in the pasture, in the darkening spring twilight, in the natural world.
Recognizing the true nature of their loneliness, the speaker’s relationship with the ponies shifts from simple observation to desire. As one of the ponies walks over to him and nuzzles his left hand, he imagines holding the pony in his arms. He begins to caress the delicate skin of its ear, and in that moment of intimate, physical contact, he is struck with the sudden realization that if he were to step out of his body, to cross the boundary of his physical, mortal existence, he “would break/ Into blossom.”
He does not step out of his body, nor does he break into blossom. The “if” is significant. Yet he has received “a blessing,” a spiritual insight: The social world is not the only source of meaning in life. Although humans have alienated themselves from nature, they can undo that alienation and find deeper sources of meaning. Finally, beyond the border of this life, a spiritual blossoming is possible, and the awareness of that possibility infuses the moment described in this poem with a visceral, palpable joy.