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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472

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...

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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 detail, neatly conflating the dreams of two generations, the older people caught in the act of deflecting their hopes to their offspring, the younger ones oblivious of any frame of reference more encompassing than daily frivolity. Overriding all, however, is the idea that both generations are more profoundly interconnected than they realize, and that this interconnection foreshadows the path of salvation.

The volume contains several masterpieces, but “A Blessing” would outshine galaxies. In apparently effortless breath-units, Wright depicts an encounter between two travelers and two wild horses. The lines ripple, as if imitating the movements of the horses. Wright fuses the horses’ dancing, the excited breathing of the men, and the pacing of the lines into the same rhythm, so that all become part of the whole. The poem becomes an act of communion. Wright catches the rapt commingling of the speaker with the animals through direct description. It comes as no surprise when he likens the filly’s ear with the “skin over a girl’s wrist” or expresses his desire to embrace her. This merely anticipates the final transformation, which then appears simply natural: The poet offers to leave his body—which in the poem he has already done—and realizes that if he does, it will put forth blossoms. Wright has used this image before, to symbolize his reconciliation with his dead father; here, he signifies his fusion with the natural universe.

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