James Wright's "A Blessing"
Introduction and Text of Poem, "A Blessing"
The speaker in James Wright's "A Blessing" dramatizes a simple event that left him with a marvelous, emotional fulfillment. Wright's poem commits the fallacy known as the pathetic fallacy; it assigns emotions to animals that are clearly only human emotions. The speaker cannot know how an animal actually feels despite its seeming expression of what looks like joy or happiness to the human.
Despite those fallacies and few jarring images, the last line of the poem makes it one of the greatest poems in American literature. The speaker may possess an overemotional heart and even a scattered mind, but to be able to express how he feels with such a line is an astounding and absolutely wonderful accomplishment.
In the line, "to welcome my friend and me," the friend refers to poetaster, Robert Bly, who mentions that encounter in Robert Bly and James Wright: A Correspondence. (See callout below.)
While Bly apparently was not so poetically moved by the ponies and has never created any lines that demonstrate the magnificent craftsmanship that Wright has achieved, nevertheless, kudos are due to Bly for recognizing the importance of that final triad of lines.
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Reading of "A Blessing"
James Wright's "A Blessing" paints a portrait of the human heart warmed and inspired by an encounter with nature—two Indian ponies in a pasture.
First Movement: The Main Players, Two Indian Ponies
The speaker first sets the stage, remarking that the place of his encounter is near the town of Rochester, Minnesota, "just off the highway." He adds that the time of day is twilight which "bounds softly forth on the grass."
The speaker then introduces the main players in his little drama, the two Indian ponies; he asserts that their eyes "darken with kindness." Despite the super-sentimental employment of the pathetic fallacy, this speaker offers a unique glimpse of a man's heartfelt encounter in a natural setting. The event seems to be a chance occurrence in which a motorist simply stops to pet some ponies, allured by their beauty in the pasture.
Second Movement: Meeting the Ponies
The speaker reveals that he and a friend have stopped to engage the ponies that "have come gladly out of the willows." The ponies walk up to the speaker and his friend to welcome them. The speaker commits the pathetic fallacy when he assigns human emotion to the animals, claiming that they come gladly and that they come to welcome the two men.
Both men cross a barbed wire fence to move closer to the animals. The speaker surmises that the ponies have been grazing in the field the whole day alone. On several occasions, the speaker makes claims that the reader knows are mere suppositions. The speaker could not know for certain that the ponies have been grazing in the meadow all day alone, but he asserts the claim anyway, as he creates his little drama.
Third Movement: The Happiness of Animals
Again assigning human emotion to the animals, the speaker asserts that the animals "can hardly contain their happiness" that the two men have come to visit them. He makes the odd remark that the animals love each other, yet he adds there is no loneliness like theirs. The claim yanks at the heartstrings in a bizarre clash of thought and feeling, seeming at first a contradictory assertion.
Fourth Movement: Embracing Affection
The animals then begin "munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness." The speaker says that he would like to take "the slenderer one in [his] arms." This pony has paid him especial attention by moving to him and "nuzzl[ing his] left hand."
Fifth Movement: Delicate Pony Skin
Keeping his focus on the female pony, the speaker further describes her as "black and white." He rubs her ear as her mane falls "wild on her forehead." He claims that a light breeze has urged him to caress the pony's ear. He describes the skin on the pony's ears as being as "delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist."
Sixth Movement: Breaking into Bloom
Despite the pathetic fallacies and some jolting images, the reader is abruptly handed a line that caps this poem with the signature image, one that springs into the mind leaving it stunned by beauty: "Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom." The title of the poem becomes gloriously fulfilled.
Robert Bly's Remark
One Sunday afternoon, as we were driving from Pine Island to Minneapolis, we passed a couple of horses standing in a small pasture. We got out and walked over to them. Back in the car, Jim started writing in his small spiral notebook lines for the poem he later called “A Blessing,” which concludes:
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body, I would break
James Wright and Robert Bly
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes