By Norah Christianson
By James Wright
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Can you see it? The two Indian ponies coming out of the willows in the twilight, their eyes darkening with kindness? Can you see how “They bow shyly as wet swans?” Can you sense why the poet is moved to caress the slenderer pony’s long ear that is “delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist?” Have you ever felt you might “break into blossom” from the kind of quiet ecstasy you’ve felt just being near one of earth’s beautiful animals?
How wonderfully James Wright brings us into that spring twilight with him. How he reminds us, with his strong images and natural language, of animals’ power to calm us and fill us with gladness. Oh, the animals!
I am reminded of the naturalist Henry Beston’s famous words about animals:
“They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” (italics mine)
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
My friend Ingrid Grenon is a health care worker who practices Equine-Assisted Therapy, using horses to help people with mental health conditions. (Other animals, such as llamas, cats, and rabbits are also common therapy animals.) Ingrid is a social worker, and she is also a certified farrier. Her love for horses, plus her compassion for her patients with mental disorders, gives her the greatest satisfaction.
Ingrid has told me many times of the wonderful effects her horses have on her unwell patients. The patients form a bond with the horses. This bond decreases patients’ loneliness, their anxiety, their fear. Their interaction with the horses calms them, and even provides focus and motivation. Ingrid tells me, “A horse’s electromagnetic field completely surrounds you and directly influences your heart rhythm and emotions.”
James Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio in 1927. Wright suffered from bi-polar disorder all his life. You can understand, reading “The Blessing” and realizing how animals help us mentally, how the experience with the Indian horses was so healing and joyful for him.
James Wright’s son, Franz, was also a poet. Together, James and Franz are the only parent/child pair to have won a Pulitzer Prize in the same category. James Wright died in 1980 in New York City at the age of 52.
James Seay, writing in the Georgia Review, has said that Wright’s poetry writes of “the agony of human existence miraculously made bearable by nature’s . . . eloquence.”