(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The title of The Branch Will Not Break seems to disclose the spiritual and emotional state Wright had reached at the time it was written. He had been confronting the strains and stresses of modern life throughout his career. Now he was making a statement of his fitness: Whatever the pressure, he could stand up to it, as if determined to prove that his central theme of the coexistence of death and life, suffering and love, was more than just a pious hope.

Recognizing this has led many critics to misemphasize the impact of some aspects of these poems. By consensus, these works show the solidification of Wright’s despair before the absolute bleakness of his defining work, Shall We Gather at the River. There is, however, more wit, vitality, humor, and variety in this book than that judgment would indicate.

These poems are much less formal than Wright’s earlier work and much more personal and intimate. The voice speaks from within rather than assuming a public posture. There is less apparent artifice and polish, more spontaneity, more emphasis on the words of the heart. “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” for example, has nothing like the strict stanzaic forms characteristic of his previous poems. The lines are arbitrary, broken apparently according to whim; they suggest the almost inarticulate murmurings that proceed just beyond the range of conscious recognition.

They also re-create the scene in graphic...

(The entire section is 472 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.