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A Blessing

A Blessing

by James Wright

Analysis: Speaker

Though all poets write from their own experience, it's important to distinguish the poet from the speaker in the poem. That said, the desire to seek out possible connections between a poet's personal life and the words on the page can be irresistible. In the case of "A Blessing," there's an interesting biographical backstory, but, before we get to that, let's try to make an unbiased assessment of the poem's speaker.

So what do we know about the speaker? Well, we don't find out until line 6 that the poem is narrated in the first person ("my friend and me"). Who these people are we don't know, though we may suspect that they are taking a road trip together. There is no indication of their gender.

Even before the speaker self-identifies in line 6, the earlier descriptions suggest that he or she is a sensitive soul, someone who reflects on the quality of twilight and who notices the kindness in a pony's eyes. Clearly an animal lover, the speaker closely observes and interprets the ponies' behavior. The speaker appears deeply touched by one pony's willingness to make direct contact, responding with a "caress." In the final lines of the poem, the speaker's emotions intensify, culminating in a kind of mystical vision.

So, back to that backstory: in his memoirs, Robert Bly, a fellow poet and close friend of James Wright, gives the following account of the events surrounding Wright's composition of "A Blessing."

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."

Interesting, yes? But does this account change your perception of the poem's speaker at all? Speaking just for ourselves, Shmoop has to admit that from now on we may visualize "my friend and me" as two men.

Here's another, possibly more revealing, biographical tidbit for you. In an interview, James Wright once referred to the imagination as "that mysterious and frightening thing." During the same interview, he offered the following comment. 

Sometimes there is a force of life like the spring which mysteriously takes shape without your even having asked it to take shape, and this is frightening, it is terribly frightening. It has happened maybe a few times to me—times when I've been able to get the poem finished in almost nothing flat. 

When the interviewer asked which poem Wright was referring to, the poet cited "A Blessing" and one other poem. "Where did they [the poems] come from?" mused Wright. "If you were to ask me that question, I would have to say, how should I know?"

In these remarks, Wright seems to suggest that the process of writing a poem sometimes involves a mysterious external power that operates through his own imagination. He seems to find this power frightening because he does not understand its source and, perhaps, feels out of control. Since he specifically cites "A Blessing" in this context, it could be intriguing to consider whether the speaker of this poem itself reflects any of those ideas (and fears). For more thoughts along these lines, check out "Transformation" in the "Themes" section.

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