“A Blessing” by James Wright
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
James Wright composes “A Blessing,” by introducing a narrator who recalls a memory about an experience he had with a friend on a trip around Rochester, Minnesota. On this trip, the narrator and his friend encounter two Indian ponies, one of which appears to make a pronounced impact on the narrator. Rather than describe what the scenery may look like or how his friend is feeling about the trip, the narrator instantly speaks of the ponies and continues to speak of them for the remainder of the poem. However, “A Blessing” leaves many questions to be asked. Why does James Wright decide to only sex one of the two ponies his narrator encounters? Why does he fluctuate between the physical and the mental, which divides the themes in his poem? What does Wright try to accomplish by packing “A Blessing” with alliteration, assonance, and consonance? Is there any identity to be found within his carefully placed lines and what does the reader take away from the varying tenses throughout Wright’s poem? Wright fills several lines of “A Blessing” with assonance to create varieties of structure for his poem. Wright believes that the moment between his narrator and the ponies is precious and delicate.
Therefore, he used one stanza to craft his poem because he does not want to interrupt their meeting. If the poem would have been constructed into varying stanzas, the poem would be broken rather than one conscious thought or action. By keeping the poem as one stanza the narrator’s interaction with the ponies is untouched. It is kept whole and beautiful. The structure of the poem is a direct comparison to the spiritual relationship between the narrator and the ponies. Wright begins with this delicate theme with the soft “o” sound in “softly” and “ponies” in lines two and three. The soft sound connects softly and ponies and by doing so sets the scene for the reader that the kindness the ponies display to the narrator and his friend is the beginning of the impact they make on the narrator. Wright provides textual evidence of this compassion by telling the readers, “And the eyes of the two Indian ponies / Darken with kindness” (3-4). Wright continues with alliteration in lines five through eight with the “w” at the beginning of “willow,” “welcome,” “we,” “wire,” and “where.” When spoken aloud, the repetition of the “w” sounds like the snorting a horse makes, which can be displayed as a greeting towards the narrator and his friend. The alliteration continues in lines nine through twelve with repetition of the “th” sound in “they,” “that,” “there,” and “theirs.” The “th” sounds like the thumping on the ground of the pony’s hooves while they move towards the narrator. The movement of the ponies is a sign of openness and welcome. Nearing the end of the poem, Wright comes back to the “o” sound again in “forehead,” long,” and “over.”
This sound softens the moment between the female pony and the narrator. This distinction helps the reader comprehend the intimacy the narrator feels with the female pony. The soft “o” sound also imitates the sound of someone sighing; an action that often displays an emotion of tenderness or care. In the same lines, Wright uses both alliteration and consonance with the repetition of the “f” and “l” sounds, “falls,” “forehead,” “light,” “long,” and “delicate.” The alliteration and consonance reflect the gentleness that was created by the “o” sound. Wright uses alliteration one last time in his concluding lines with the use of “b” in “body,” “break,” and “blossom.” The “b” used in Wright’s concluding two lines, “That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom.” (23-24). “B” as a sound is explosive when it comes out of a speaker’s mouth. This movement of the mouth parallels the narrator’s explosion of excitement and realization of his discovery. Throughout the poem, the narrator expresses his enthusiasm towards this meeting with the ponies. It was important to Wright to end of the poem on this explosive note so that it parallels the narrator’s excitement in the beginning. The alliteration, consonance, and assonance create an emotional arc through “A Blessing.” Each of the sounds created throughout the poem help the reader better comprehend the emotions the narrator is feeling during that given time. “A Blessing” begins in the present tense. By using the present tense, the reader can imagine the actions in the poem as the narrator does them. In different tenses, certain words carry different connotations.
The present tense makes the reader feel as though they are watching the eyes of the ponies darken or as if they are stepping over the barbed wire with the narrator and his friend. By describing the beginning of the poem in present tense, the narrator seems more reliable to the reader. The emotions and actions appear real because they are being done as the audience reads them. The present tense creates a sense of intimacy between the narrator and the reader because they are in tune to the actions he is performing or the effects he is seeing. In line sixteen, Wright changes the tense from present to past. Up until that point, the poem is written in the present tense as Wright describes for his audience what actions the narrator takes as he approaches the horses. In line sixteen, rather than describing the moment as it is happening, Wright chose to say that the pony walked over to him, in the past tense: “For she walked over to me” (16). The tense change is abrupt and grabs the reader’s attention. The reader’s attention is drawn deeper into the relationship between the narrator and the ponies. The narrator also seems less reliable for he is recounting the ideas rather than speaking of them as they are happening. The reliability also plays in effect towards to relationship between the narrator and the ponies. The past tense and the reliability make the last half of the poem light and flighty. This flighty atmosphere relates to the otherworldly connection between the narrator and the ponies. Line sixteen not only begins the tense change but it is also the climax of the poem. Wright and his friend had been waiting the entire poem to make contact with the Indian ponies.
Wright displayed their eagerness throughout the first fifteen lines of “A Blessing” by building the anticipation within his narrator and the audience. Wright wants his readers to realize how critical the moment shared between the female pony and his narrator is. “A Blessing” is composed of two divisions, the physical and the mental. The beginning ten lines describe physical actions performed or things physically seen by the narrator. Wright’s narrator mentions that, “And the eyes of those two Indian ponies / Darken with kindness” (3-4). These two lines describe something seen by the narrator. By describing what Wright’s narrator is seeing as he draws closer to the ponies allows the reader to understand and visualize for themselves what is being felt by the ponies and how their physical appearance and demeanor changes. To the ponies, the narrator and his friend are strangers. For most animals it is instinctive when strangers enter their territory they become territorial and act in aggression towards the unknown. For the ponies to not act in their natural instincts towards the narrator and his friend shows compassion. This compassion hints at an unseen bond between the four characters. “We step over the barbed wire into the pasture / Where they have been grazing all day, alone” (7-8).
Wright uses lines seven and eight for the narrator and his companion to take physical action, where they cross the boundary between themselves and the Indian ponies. The narrator watches a physical action taken by the ponies as their eyes darken and they became more excited as the narrator and his companion draw nearer. When a person or animal feels excited, their eyes naturally widen, allowing more light into their eyes causing their pupils to widen and their eyes to appear darker. Directly preceding line four, Wright’s narrator says, “They have come gladly out of the willows / To welcome my friend and me” (5-6). The eyes of the ponies show this natural attraction which is then directly followed by them coming to greet the narrator. The ponies are naturally attracted to the narrator and his friend. In lines eleven and twelve, Wright begins his first emotional division. Line eleven shows a physical action taken by the ponies, “They bow shyly as wet swans” (11). However, Wright follows that sentence immediately, in the same line, with an emotional one, “They love each other” (11).
Line eleven is the only line where Wright formatted two sentences on one line. This is a development to draw attention to the importance of the ponies’ actions. Love is an emotion and therefore is not something that can physically be seen. However, actions between two participants are used to display affection, which is often interpreted as love. Wright also describes the loneliness of the horses, another emotion that cannot be physically seen but is often portrayed by the one who is feeling lonely. “There is no loneliness like theirs” (12). The horses bowing their heads can be seen as a sign of loneliness because by bowing their heads they are hiding their faces, which shield their emotions. If the ponies were happy, they would have no need to protect their delicate emotions. To be in love but to be lonely are not two emotions one would typically place together. Love is an emotion that is shared between two companions. If two people are present, one would assume that there should be no sense of loneliness because two people are together.
However, Wright puts these together successfully which draws the reader to become invested in the emotional state of the ponies and it shows that the narrator himself is invested in the ponies. From lines fourteen to twenty, Wright begins to drift back into the physical division by describing the female pony, her actions towards the narrator, and his actions against her. The horse nuzzles the narrator’s left hand and a light breeze moves him to pet her. “For she had walked over to me / And nuzzled my left hand” (16-17) and “And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear” (20). Each of these actions shows emotion, presumably love or lust, which Wright described in earlier lines. By creating actions that exude an emotion Wright ties action and emotion together as if they are one entity. The relationship that Wright shows between the narrator and the ponies is spiritual in that humans cannot physically have relationships with animals. However, the narrator continues to emphasize the emotional draw he has towards these beautiful creatures. The narrator is becoming all the more entangled in this special encounter with the ponies. In the concluding sentence which consisted of lines twenty-two, twenty-three and twenty-four, Wright comes full circle and ends with a mental or emotional division.
He leaves the narrator thinking to himself that if he was able to step out of his body that he would blossom. Wright uses blossom as a term of development for his narrator that his experience with the ponies has so greatly affected him that he feels he has now grown and grown so much so that he can have an out of body experience. “Suddenly I realize / That if I step out of my body I would break / Into blossom” (22-24). Blossoming can also be used to describe the freedom the ponies have of being outside free to roam their pasture and belong in nature. By nature, ponies are wild animals, free of any responsibilities. The nature of the ponies and the nature of the narrator are direct contrasts to each other. The ponies are unrestricted and the narrator is looking for this freedom which is why he is so fascinated by them. Wright’s use of emotional and physical divisions throughout his poem illustrates the narrator’s inner turmoil between what he wants and what he physically has. The narrator wants to be free to roam around, like the ponies, but rather he is human and therefore possesses daily responsibilities. He is straining to find what he is looking for and finds beauty in the freedom that the ponies are allowed. Wright uses the divisions to alter the attention of the reader and divide his one stanza poem.
“A Blessing” has an understated identity, one in which the speaker is hoping for a chance to join the ponies in another life. Wright mentions on several occasions breaking or crossing a barrier. He begins in his first line, “Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,” (1) where the narrator is bridging the gap between manmade “the highway” and nature “just off.” He then continues to “We step over the barbed wire into the pasture.” (7). In this line, the narrator and his companion are physically stepping over the barrier between themselves and the ponies. Nearing the end of the poem, Wright breaks the physical barrier between the narrator and the ponies when one of them touches his left hand, “And nuzzled my left hand” (17). Each of these barrier crossings can be viewed as passages to an afterlife. Each of these barriers must be crossed in order for him to be effectively revitalized. Wright mentions reawakening in the last two lines of his poem. “That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom” (23-24). The narrator mentioned earlier in the poem that the ponies were of Indian descent. It is common belief in many Indian or Native American tribes that rebirth or reawakening is a part of their religious philosophies. This reawakening contributes to the narrator’s relationship with the ponies. The relationship shared between the narrator and the ponies is spiritual and in the last two lines the narrator expresses his need of wanting to be as close with them as possible. Therefore, he desires to step across these borders and join the ponies so that they can be together. Wright’s narrator is searching for himself in the ponies and within the nature around them. He hopes that these events will transcend into a rejuvenating experience.
He also gives only one of the ponies an identity. He describes one of them as female and personifies her with human characteristics. In line fifteen he describes her as “the slender one” and in line eighteen he calls to her coloring “black and white.” In lines nineteen and twenty-one he talks about the way her hair falls and how delicate her skin is. By giving the pony human characteristics, the reader can see that this pony was possibly someone the narrator had known in another life. The ponies cannot greet the narrator as the narrator would greet a fellow human. To bridge the gap between animal and human, the narrator personifies the ponies. James Wright composed a poem of enlightenment and curiosity. Wright draws his readers in by creating vivid images. He developed a new way to entertain the idea of love. The relationship between the narrator and the ponies is one of endearment which is commonly seen between two humans rather than an animal and a human. The spiritual relationship held between the narrator and the ponies, especially the female pony, is the basis of everything the narrator does and describes before and after the encounter.
Wright has created new interpretive descriptions of crossing into another lifetime. He developed a life where animals and humans can walk as one and where humans can walk as freely as animals. He also incorporated the common human need for rejuvenation and created “A Blessing” as a new way to fulfill that human need. James Wright developed a poem that touched on several topics, bringing them all together to create a coherent and fulfilling new life.