Sunday, April 28, 2019

30 Great Poems for April, Day 28: “A Blessing” by James Wright

Read “A Blessing” on the Academy of American Poets site here.

People, I warned you about the horses.

Sometimes you need pure happiness. And, you know, that’s rare in poetry. At least, in good poetry. It’s hard to say, Okay, I’m going to lift you up and keep you there in ecstasy, and then deliver on it. Really. Freakin’. Hard. If I knew how to do that, I’d write a happy poem every day.

I first encountered this poem, as I think a lot of people did, in high school in the 1970s. And what a great way to introduce a small-town kid to poetry. I knew these Indian ponies; I had seen that ripple and felt that “long ear / That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.” I didn’t realize it at the time (or perhaps the teacher, probably Mr. Flynn, explained this and I promptly forgot), but the sounds all through this poem are doing quiet work, lulling you into peace. All the “s” sounds, all the trochees—the two-syllable words with a stress on the first—darken, kindness, welcome, nuzzled. And the triplets, again with first syllables stressed—happiness, loneliness, slenderer, delicate. All such graceful words, strung together like a narcotic necklace. And good lord, he gets away with “happiness” and “loneliness” in the same damned poem! Nobody does that!

And I know it may be just because I learned this poem as a teenager, so I’ve had it in my head for 40-ish years, but there it is, right in the front of my mind, whenever I pass a horse pasture, which is pretty much every day here in southern Oregon. “They love each other. / There is no loneliness like theirs.”

And then of course the last three lines. Does anyone who reads those lines when young ever forget them?

[All through April, I’m featuring a favorite poem every day, along with a link where you can read it. Some are classics, some are newer, but each one is the kind of poem that I read, love, and immediately want to tell all my friends about. What better to time to share them than National Poetry Month?]


  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and moving poem that I have not encountered before in my fractional experience of world poetry. Here in Australia, I was fortunate to find myself near horses from a very young age. Some years later, living by that time in the rock-hard pastures of a big city, I adored the 'Silver Brumby' novels by Elyne Mitchell, which gave me the feeling again of closeness to the lives of horses. I have not been close to those noble creatures for a very long time, though I gladly see them at a distance through bus and car windows in my frequent travels out of town. Still the more intimate earlier memories remain, brought to warm life again in the middle of this solitary night, a blessing across oceans and time between you and I and James Wright.

  2. Thanks so much for this thoughtful reply, Marie.