by James Wright
Analysis: Sound Check
Music was important to James Wright. "You can endure almost anything as long as you can sing about it," he said. The music in "A Blessing" is subtle but powerful, created in part through the rhythms of the lines (see "Form and Meter" section). As free verse, the poem doesn't wear its sounds on its sleeve. There are no obvious rhymes, and other sound devices work their magic almost invisibly within and across the lines of the poem.
There are only two instances of rhyme in the poem, and both are inconspicuous internal rhymes. Line 8 contains the exact rhyme "they" and "day," while line 12 contains the slant rhyme (or "almost" rhyme) of "there" and "theirs." Shmoop admits to missing both of these rhymes the first couple of times we read the poem. And even after we noticed them, they seemed pretty inconsequential at first. But when we paid closer attention, some interesting effects emerged.
In line 8, the long A sound in the rhyming words "they" and "day" recurs in the word "grazing." Is there any connection between this repeated sound and the meaning of the line ("Where they have been grazing all day")? Grazing is a pretty repetitive activity: if you're a pony, you use your lips and teeth to gather one tuft of grass, then another and another, while you slowly stroll across the pasture.
Line 12 is about "loneliness," and the slant rhyme in this line reinforces the idea of being closed off or self-contained. Almost identical in sound, the words at the beginning and end of the line ("There" and "theirs") form a kind of closed circle. Just another example of how this poet's super-sonic devices fly under the reader's radar!
Once you're sensitized to Wright's subtle use of sound, you start hearing musical effects throughout the poem. The first two lines of the poem are woven together with short O sounds ("off," "Rochester," "softly") and long I sounds ("highway" and "Twilight"). In lines 3 and 4, repetition of the long I sound emphasizes the "kindness" in the ponies' "eyes." Alliteration links the next two lines ("willows" and "welcome"). Line 20 is tightly stitched together with both alliteration ("light […] long," "moves […] me") and assonance ("breeze […] me").
In lines 21 and 22, the poem switches abruptly from physical description to abstract imagery. Notice how Wright uses alliteration to ease this conceptual transition. Bridging the gap are the repeated S sounds in "skin" and "Suddenly" and the repeated R sounds in "wrist" and realize."
Midway through "A Blessing," and again at the end, alliteration amplifies key themes of the poem. In lines 11 and 12, the L sound in "loneliness" carries a melancholy echo of the L sound in "love" (for more on this, check out the "Calling Card" and "Themes" sections). In the last two lines of the poem, the triple alliteration of "body […] break […] blossom" just might blow your mind or make your brain explode! (For more on this, see "Transformation" in the "Themes" section.)