The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“A Navajo Blanket” is a fourteen-line poem in two stanzas of equal length. In the poem, May Swenson is describing the dazzling colors and distinctive designs of a traditional blanket made by the Navajos of the American Southwest. The colors and shapes of the blanket make her think of what the blanket represents—the Navajo people, their culture, landscape, and ceremonies. In this meditation on the blanket, however, she is also writing about an experience in which the individual undergoes a transformation of consciousness through the experience of a work of art.

The appearance of the two stanzas of the poem on the page suggests the shape and design of the blanket. The lines of words across the page are like the rows of thread in a weaving, and the shape of the whole poem is generally rectangular with a zone of space like a band of white across the center. The words “paths” and “maze” describe what the blanket’s design looks like and announce that the poet is going to draw the reader into a complex experience, simply as the pattern and color of the blanket draw the eye into its complex design. The first stanza leads the reader into the maze pattern of the blanket, and the second stanza leads the reader out, a movement that seems to imitate the balanced pattern of the blanket itself. She moves through the various associations and states of mind evoked by the blanket, from being dazzled and disturbed by its brightness, to being calmed at its center, and finally,...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

May Swenson is well known for her ingenious use of language, giving her the ability to re-create a subject visually and aurally. Here the lines of words, the two blocks of words that make up the two stanzas, and the space between the stanzas imitate the appearance of the blanket. Her use of strong colors re-creates the dazzling effect of the blanket. The colors also may be symbolic, although there is no specific explanation of that symbolism in the poem. Perhaps blue and red suggest the sky and red earth of the Southwest. Black may be death, trance, night, or dry vegetation in summer, among other possibilities. Green leads back to life, like something growing or a life-giving river, and white seems to represent enlightenment, calmness, or emptiness. She capitalizes the colors found in the blanket, as she capitalizes Sun and Moon, which gives these words particular importance, whereas “white” is not capitalized and thus seems to be simply a description of something, not a powerful object in itself.

Besides using the visual effect of the poem on the page and visual images in the language, Swenson makes sound an important part of the poem. Although “A Navajo Blanket” does not have a conventional rhyme scheme, she uses the repetition of various sounds to create mood and meaning throughout. In the second line, she uses the alliterative “paths,” “pull,” and “pin” to emphasize the connection between these words, and the i sound in...

(The entire section is 492 words.)