Feb 17, 2014

James Wright: Dog, Horse, Gopher, Blessing

Here is an excerpt from Peter Stitt's 1972 Paris Review interview with esteemed poet James Wright (1927-1980), whose eloquence here makes clear why his finished poems are so widely admired.
Snowy Egret
(The Bly to whom Wright refers is poet Robert Bly, who had—still has?—a farm in Minnesota, which Wright sometimes visited).

The book that followed, of course, is The Branch Will Not Break. How do these things show up there?
At the center of that book is my rediscovery of the abounding delight of the body that I had forgotten about. Every Friday afternoon I used to go out to Bly’s farm, and there were so many animals out there. There was Simon, who was an Airedale, but about the size of a Great Dane. There was David, the horse, my beautiful, beloved David, the swaybacked palomino. Simon and David used to go out by Bly’s barn. David would stand there looking out over the corn fields that lead onto the prairies of South Dakota, and Simon would sit down beside him, and they would stay there for hours. And sometimes, after I sat on the front porch and watched them, sometimes I went and sat down beside Simon. Neither Simon nor David looked at me, and I felt blessed. They allowed me to join them. They liked me. I can’t get over it—they liked me. Simon didn’t bite me, David didn’t kick me; they just stayed there as they were. And I sat down on my fat ass and looked over the corn fields and the prairie with them. And there we were. One afternoon, a gopher came up out of a hole and looked at us. Simon didn’t leap for him, David didn’t kick him, and I didn’t shoot him. There we were, all four of us together. All I was thinking was, I can be happy sometimes. And I’d forgotten that. And with those animals I remembered then. And that is what that book is about, the rediscovery. I didn’t hate my body at all. I liked myself very much. Simon is lost. David, with what Robert called his beautiful and sensitive face, has gone to the knacker’s. I wish I knew how to tell you. My son Marsh, the musician, is in love with animals.
I’m posting Wright's passage today simply because I find it stunning, but also because some regulars here are animal lovers, as am I.  I can’t imagine a piece of writing that better captures what I find beautiful and comforting about the furry and the feathered (and lizards and bugs, though less so). 

True, animals can be crazy and mean (with or without pollution by humans), and I question the popular, romantic notion that animals kill only to feed themselves. A few months ago, a television piece showed an adult female lion (or was it a tiger?) who ate so much of her prey that her stomach exploded and killed her. 
I’m wary of sweeping generalizations, even when they seem to come from reliable sources and tell me what I think I want to hear about nobility in nature. 
However, what James Wright says here captures animals at their best, which is what they are most of the time—plus the benefit of a human with convincing humility and admiration.  

For those who are interested, here is the entire interview, about various aspects of writing poetry, not just animals:


If you have the time, see also James Wright’s poems, “A Blessing” and “Lying in a Hammock,” which are rather directly related to the passage above.
Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Female
A Blessing by James Wright : The Poetry Foundation

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota by James Wright : The Poetry Foundation

See and hear Wright reading the poem here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpQU79sda3Q

Visitors and I discussed these poems here a few years ago:

 "Lying in a Hammock":

"A Blessing":


Pasadena Adjacent said...

very sweet. I share the tribal interspecies experience - I refer to them as Saint Francis moments

Banjo52 said...

St. Francis moments. Great! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think many of us are in animal-theme week, which suits me just fine. Thank you for this.

Jean Spitzer said...

Lovely interview.

Stickup Artist said...

Loved Blessing. Made me think of the herd of mules living in a large paddock close to me. I love visiting them because they get so excited , running over to the fence to greet me. It's the cutest! And, who could be more loving and emotionally supportive than a dog. I'm glad I left big city life...

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, all. It's been decades since I've spend time with horses or farms, but Wright's two poems bring it all back. And dogs? Don't get me started on the wonder of them. Except for that photo, which is probably a groundhog, if there's a difference, I can't say I've had a meaningful relationship with a gopher.

Rune Eide said...

I somehow found a wider interpretation of the passage: Not only animals can allow us to join them without feeling imposed upon - so can humans. But then, we are animals too.

Nice photos, as usual. The first one must be my favourite - the lonely human.

Ken Mac said...

Simon is lost. That made me sad, though a sweet story

Banjo52 said...

Rune, that makes sense to me. As trite as it's become, I repeatedly hear Rodney King's now famous line, simple as it is, "Why can't we all just get along." Or the way around, Robert Frost's "Good fences make good neighbors."

Banjo52 said...

Ken, good eye. The sweetness of the passage makes it easy to forget that, in addition to other references to pain or loss, both animals are now gone. About that, I also like Wright's way of showing feeling without going overboard: "I wish I knew how to tell you." Tell us what? But of course we know, sadly, how to finish Wright's simple sentence, and if he said it, it would be too much, too sentimental.

Lovers' Lane