Study Guide

A Blessing Quotes

By James Wright

  • Man and the Natural World

    Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, (1)

    "They paved paradise," sang Joanie Mitchell in "Big Yellow Taxi." There are no taxis in the first line of this poem, but the highway is surely paved, exemplifying industrial society. Does a natural paradise still exist alongside or "just off" this manmade environment?

    Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. (2)

    Already we've left the pavement behind, finding ourselves in a grassy area at twilight. Creating an aura of enticing mystery, the personification of twilight reflects an imaginative impulse, as the speaker's awareness connects with the world of nature. The word "softly" makes the natural scene even more appealing.

    They have come gladly out of the willows
    To welcome my friend and me. (5-6)

    Ambassadors of the natural world, the ponies are decidedly friendly toward the human visitors. Their welcome is inclusive, allowing for continued friendship between humans ("my friend and me") as well as between ponies and humans. There's no hint of danger—apparently nature isn't out to get us in this poem.

    At home once more, (13)

    The word "home" connotes comfort, security, ease, even love. The ponies already know how to be at home in nature, and their welcoming of the visitors suggests that humans may find their true home in nature, too.

    For she has walked over to me
    And nuzzled my left hand. (16-17)

    This just gets better and better. The speaker's decision to step out of the manmade world and into the world of nature is paying off big-time. The mysterious beauties of nature are unfolding not at a distance but in an up-close and personal way. Nature herself (in the form of the pony) seems to reach out with a gentle touch, drawing the human into a closer relationship.

  • Isolation

    We step over the barbed wire in to the pasture (7)

    The barbed wire fence in the poem separates the world of nature (the ponies' home) from the artificial, man-made world of the highway. Isolated from nature, the speaker must be willing to cross this boundary, taking the first step to bridge the gap.

    Where they have been grazing all day, alone. (8)

    The word "alone" suggests that the ponies, too, suffer from isolation. They are at home in the world of nature, and they provide companionship for each other, but they are separated from the humans. So the desire for connection seems to flow both ways.

    There is no loneliness like theirs. (12)

    The word "loneliness" conveys the emotional consequences of isolation. What kind of loneliness do the ponies experience, and why is it unlike other kinds of loneliness? The speaker does not explain, forcing us, as readers, to explore our own experience of loneliness in an effort to understand the ponies' loneliness.

    I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, (15)

    Who wouldn't want to hug that beautiful little black-and-white pony with the mane falling wild across her forehead? Yet the speaker doesn't actually follow through on this impulse ("would like"). Something is holding the speaker back. Is it fear of spooking the pony? Or fear of letting go emotionally? For whatever reason, the speaker does not take this step to bridge the separation from the world of nature.

    Suddenly I realize
    That if I stepped out of my body I would break (23)

    Notice the conditional tense of this statement ("if"). Again, something is holding the speaker back, and there's a hint of fear in the words "I would break." For the speaker, contact with the ponies seems to have triggered awareness of a spiritual dimension of nature, a unifying energy that transcends the physical world. But the speaker is not yet ready to step "out of my body," to accept the reality of a spiritual dimension that would end the speaker's isolation once and for all.

  • Love

    And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
    Darken with kindness. (3-4)

    Don't these lines just make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Love has a way of doing that. And kindness is one expression of love.

    They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
    That we have come. (9-10)

    When people love each other, they are happy to spend time with each other; when separated, they can't wait to see each other again. The ponies' enthusiasm about the arrival of their human guests suggests a similar level of anticipation and affection.

    They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other. (11)

    This line leaves no doubt that the ponies love each other; the image of bowing swans even suggests romantic love. By introducing the word "love" at this point, right in the middle of the poem, the poet brings the theme of love front and center.

    And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
    That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist. (20-21)

    Just as the breeze caresses the speaker, the speaker caresses the pony, making a further connection to the memory of caressing a girl's wrist. Sometimes, when two people are in love, they say, "This love is bigger than the both of us." That certainly seems to be the case in this situation. This speaker's interaction with the ponies seems to have triggered a mysterious current of loving energy that flows freely not only through the ponies and the people, but also through the universe at large.

  • Transformation

    Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. (2)

    Twilight is that transitional time when day is transformed into night. In this case, twilight is also transformed, through personification, into a kind of magical entity, setting the stage for a mysterious encounter.

    We step over the barbed wire into the pasture (7)

    Purposeful change requires a willingness to enter unfamiliar territory, to move past old boundaries and meet new challenges. In "A Blessing," the speaker's willingness to step over the barbed wire clears the way for a transformational experience.

    I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, (15)

    Often we speak of the need to "embrace change." In the poem, the speaker is deeply moved by the mysterious beauty of the ponies in the pasture. The desire to enter more fully into this experience, to explore these new feelings, is expressed through the image of embracing the pony. But instead of following through on that intention, the speaker withdraws slightly, observing the desire rather than acting on it.

    Suddenly I realize
    That if I stepped out of my body I would break
    Into blossom. (22-24)

    In these final lines, the speaker's attempt to maintain objectivity—to observe an experience rather than fully participating in it—is almost overwhelmed by a full-blown image of spiritual transformation.