The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

Like many of the nature poems of the English Romantic poets, James Wright’s “A Blessing” begins with the close observation of the natural world and moves toward a startling moment of self-revelation. Consisting of a single stanza of twenty-four unrhymed lines, the poem begins by announcing its geographic setting—“Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota”—and the time of day—twilight. The speaker and his friend watch two Indian ponies emerge from a group of willows and walk toward them. Then the two humans “step over the barbed wire into the pasture” and approach the ponies, who show no fear. In fact, not only are the ponies unafraid, but also, according to the speaker, their eyes are dark “with kindness,” they come “gladly” forward to “welcome” the two people, and “they can hardly contain their happiness/ That we have come.” Watching the ponies, the speaker decides, “They love each other.”

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The speaker’s evident pleasure in the ponies and the positive emotions he ascribes to them seem almost sentimental, but the hint of sentimentality is undermined at the center of the poem when, just after asserting that the ponies love each other, the speaker says, “There is no loneliness like theirs.” In line 8, the speaker states that the ponies have been grazing all day “alone,” which might explain the delight they take in their human visitors, but the “loneliness” in line 12 is not a temporary or circumstantial phenomenon. Rather, this loneliness sets them apart from both the humanlike emotions with which the speaker initially characterizes them and the human world in which the speaker normally lives. Theirs is the “loneliness” of the nonhuman, natural world, not the frightening loneliness of the human world.

As line 13 makes clear, the ponies are very much “At home” in their world, “munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness,” and the speaker is beginning to feel at home there as well. One of the ponies nuzzles his left hand, and as he caresses her ear, he begins to imagine her as a human girl. “I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,” he says, and then describes her ear as “delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.”

At this point the speaker has forgotten all about Rochester, Minnesota, and the highway he had been on. He has even forgotten his friend. In the darkening twilight of this pasture, in physical contact with this pony, the speaker comes unexpectedly into contact with another level of his consciousness. He becomes aware of a visionary, spiritual truth about himself, the revelation of which marks the poem’s climax: “Suddenly I realize/ That if I stepped out of my body I would break/ Into blossom.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504

Unlike the poems of Wright’s first two books, most of which exhibited iambic meter and end rhyme, “A Blessing” relies on the rhythms of ordinary speech, and none of its lines rhyme. Syntactically, the poem employs simple sentence structures, many of which follow the bare “pronoun and verb” model, such as “They have come,” “We step,” “They ripple,” “They bow,” “They love,” “I would like,” “She is. . . .” The first ten lines of the poem are composed of five sentences, each of which is two lines long, so that every other line ends with a period. This syntax of short, declarative observations or assertions reveals a voice that is assured and confident, a voice that the reader is willing to trust, so that as the poem moves from the description of the ponies to the speaker’s confession of his desire “to hold the slenderer one,” and finally to the climactic moment of visionary insight, the reader follows the speaker’s experience each step of the way.

The poem makes relatively little use of conventional tropes or devices. The most obvious is personification—the speaker’s ascribing of human emotions such as kindness, gladness, happiness, shyness, loneliness, and love to the ponies—which dominates the first half of the poem and suggests his empathy with them. Some readers have suggested that Wright carries this personification so far that it becomes sentimental, or an example of the pathetic fallacy. This is an important point, for the poem concerns the individual’s communion with the natural world. Whether that communion is actually achieved in the poem—whether the reader believes it—determines whether the personification connotes genuine empathy or mere sentimentality.

Simile occurs twice in the poem: The ponies “bow shyly as wet swans,” which suggests their grace, and one pony’s ear is “delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.” This simile is significant, for it adds a sensual, or even subtly erotic, connotation to the speaker’s desire to hold in his arms the slenderer pony, whose “mane falls wild on her forehead.” Yet the simile’s suggestion of sensuality is finally less important than its emphasis on the delicacy of the pony’s, or a girl’s, skin. Such delicate skin is a membrane or border between outside and inside, but it is so thin that to cross it would be quite possible, and that possibility leads to the startling revelation expressed in the poem’s dominant and concluding metaphor: “Suddenly I realize/ That if I stepped out of my body I would break/ Into blossom.”

Formally, the poem is structured around a series of juxtaposed images: the innocent, welcoming ponies as they approach from the willows; the speaker’s caressing one of the ponies and imagining her as a girl; and finally, the speaker’s stepping out of his body and breaking into blossom. The poem derives much of its energy from the tension between these clearly drawn, powerful images and the plain, simple syntax in which they are presented.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 61

Dougherty, David. James Wright. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

Dougherty, David. The Poetry of James Wright. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991.

Roberson, William. James Wright: An Annotated Bibliography. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1995.

Smith, Dave. The Pure Clear Word: Essays on the Poetry of James Wright. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Stein, Kevin. James Wright: The Poetry of a Grown Man. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1989.

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Themes