David Pink: On "A Blessing"

"A Blessing" is perhaps James Wright's best known poem. It certainly embodies his greatest strength: the poet evoking nature as an inroad to the metaphysical or numinous. Wright is, in general and in this poem in particular, a poet of epiphany in the grand Yeatsian tradition. "A Blessing" culminates with the poet's wish to step out of his body and "break into blossom." There can be no doubt, given the poet's spoken wish for natural communication with an Indian pony, "I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms," that he is seeking transcendence through nature into a new connection with nature.

Although the speaker of the poem is wistfully serious, the poem is touched by situational irony. The metaphysical or religious communion between human and horse occurs "just off the highway," a manmade avenue of high-speed commerce. The encounter between the poet and nature must take place "just off" that highway, to amplify the gulf between man and nature. Furthermore, the horses are enclosed in "barbed wire"; the poet and his friend must transgress an unnatural boundary to enter into the natural setting. The artificial boundary of the fence, but more important, the limits of being - of otherness - between the horses, "they can hardly contain their happiness," and the poet who wants to transcend himself almost dissolve. It is a credit to Wright's poetic sensibility that they do not.

The persona of "A Blessing" is an interloper. By crossing the boundary of the fence, desiring to cross the boundaries of being, and also by calling the ponies "Indian," he seeks to cross the boundaries of difference, ownership, authorship, and time. Many of these definitions are relative to the history of relations between Whites and Indians. The poet is a white man crossing the ultimate symbol of usurpation of Indian lands and crucifactory emblem of ownership, the barbed wire fence, hoping to re-encounter, (regain?) the imagined/supposed/hoped-for bond that the Indian peoples had with nature.

It is difficult for the reader not to hear the wheels spinning on the highway as background for the poet's desire to shut out the world even as he soulfully embraces it, by becoming something usually regarded as beautiful yet mindless - a blossom. What the poet desires is beauty untainted by consciousness.

Such a desire for reincarnation is in a sense (especially considering Richard Hugo's reminiscences about Wright's alcoholism) painful. It is fabulous to think of Indian ponies as being "hardly [able to] contain their happiness / That we have come" and even more so to equate or metaphorize the "slenderer one" as a girl: "Her mane falls wild on her forehead . . . her long ear . . . delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist." But Wright's poem is about the will to love - to love most of all himself, waging the same battle that we all must wage.

Much of Wright's work, with this poem as a particular example, figures importantly as poetry of place. He will be forever linked with Martin's Ferry, Ohio; but as a professor of English at the University of Minnesota and as a traveller, he moved about. Many of his poems name a place. In this one he names Rochester, Minnesota, a incongruous mixture of a small-town, Sinclair Lewisian main street, the Mayo clinic, and a few whorehouses. Rochester is a family town, and its primary industry revolves around cures for the incurable.

More boundaries.

Outside of the poem, the lights from operating rooms and the dining room lights of marriage are a distant, unspoken tableau for boundaries and history-light defining the limits of intercourse and the wish for transcendence: "There is no loneliness like theirs."


Title David Pink: On "A Blessing" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author David Pink Criticism Target James Wright
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Wright's "A Blessing"
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