Sep 12, 2009

Poem of the day: James Wright's "A Blessing"

For James Wright’s “A Blessing,” copy and paste:

Although I like cheering for the little guy, I want to plug the website for Poetry magazine, which is no underdog. The site also includes some good commentary about a variety of poems and poets.

“A Blessing” is one Wright’s best known works. I like his comfort with content that some serious thinkers might deem sentimental or relentlessly optimistic. But are those fair conclusions?

Notice how Wright softens some major assertions by cloaking them within four lines in the middle of the poem (from “They ripple” to . . . “no loneliness like theirs”), rather than closing the poem with didactic proclamations, as those lines might feel if they came at the end.

Also notice the paradox: love and loneliness are a pair. There’s no debate or explanation; they just belong together, a couple. If the mental process in these lines is that complex and subtle, can we rightly call the lines or the whole poem sentimental—that is, saccharine and simplistic, as opposed to being respectably restrained in thought and language?

In a similar vein, watch out for that hurdle into the final two lines. Are they OK? How did Wright get there? Epiphany is the most likely explanation, but does that justify or explain this particular leap? Should the poem justify or explain the leap more than it does?

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