Robert Bly: On "A Blessing"

[This excerpt from a memoir by Robert Bly recalls the occasion on which Wright composed "A Blessing." Bly had graduated from Harvard then attended the Iowa Writers Workshop, but he was not satisfied with the poetry he was writing in the 1950s – historical verse with a setting in factual documentaries. (An example appears in New Poets of England and America, first series, 1957.) At the time he lived on his family’s farm in Madison, Minnesota.]

One day James and I were driving back to Minneapolis from a visit with Christina and Bill Duffy at their farm in Pine Island, Minnesota. Christina loved horses, had been a rider in Sweden, and continued to keep horses here. So horses were very much on both our minds. Just south of Rochester [Minnesota], James saw two ponies off to the left and said, "Let’s stop." So we did, and climbed over the fence toward them. We stayed only a few minutes, but they glowed in the dusk, and we could see it. On the way to Minneapolis James wrote in his small spiral notebook the poem he later called "A Blessing."

[Bly cites the entire poem.]

The munching of the young tufts is wonderful, and many other images and sentences. In a few passages we feel too much idealization. The two ponies are just ponies, and probably would have bit one of us if we had stayed much longer without giving them sugar. We notice that one of the ponies is declared to be female, even though there was no evidence of that in the dusk. The feminine nature is insisted on: "she has walked over to me" … "her mane" … "her long ear"; and it is interesting to me that the whole scene takes place in the aura of the young feminine: "her long ear / That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist."

Among those thoughts, in that mood, surrounded with that feminine presence, his anxiety over death is once more relieved. [Bly quotes the last three lines.] The abrupt conclusion suggests two separate realizations: when he dies, he will not simply vanish or disappear, because the human body contains something invisible and strong that the reductive scientists do not speak of. Secondly, the Pauline and Augustinian view that the body is corrupt, sinful and utterly impure does not fit the experience. The image of stepping out of the body is complicated, stereoscopic and ascensionist. At one moment the image seems brilliant and sound; at another moment too hopeful and somehow ungrounded.


Title Robert Bly: On "A Blessing" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Peter Stitt, Frank Graziano Criticism Target James Wright
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication James Wright and the Slender Woman
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