The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.”

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...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 504 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.