Dec. 13, 2000

A Blessing

by James Wright

Broadcast date: WEDNESDAY, 13 December 2000

Poem: “A Blessing,” by James Wright, from Above the River: The Complete Poems of James Wright (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, and The University Press of New England).

A Blessing

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
Into blossom.

Today is Santa Lucia Day, the patron saint of writers. In Sweden on this day, the oldest daughter puts on a white robe and a crown of evergreens and candles, and comes down the stairs early to serve saffron buns and coffee to her parents. It’s considered the start of the Christmas season.

It is the birthday of poet and translator James Wright, born in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio (1927). His father worked for 50 years at a glass factory, his mother left school at 14 to work in a laundry. Wright began to write poetry when he was 11, and won the Robert Frost Poetry Prize while attending Kenyon College. His collections include The Branch Will Not Break (1963), Shall We Gather By The River (1968), and I See the Wind (1974). His Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972.

It is the birthday of mystery writer Ross MacDonald, born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California (1915). After serving in World War Two, he settled in Santa Barbara, where he spent the rest of his life. He started work on a story about a former cop turned private eye named Lou Archer. The book, Moving Target, was published in 1949, and was later turned into the film Harper (1966) starring Paul Neman. MacDonald published 18 more Lou Archer mysteries.

It's the birthday of Episcopal clergyman, Phillips Brooks, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1835). He produced ten volumes of sermons, but he is best remembered as the author of the Christmas carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, which he wrote in 1868 for the children in his Sunday school.

It is the birthday of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the 16th President of the United States, born in Lexington, Kentucky (1818). She excelled in school, appearing in school plays and speaking French fluently. She was ambitious, scholarly, and an excellent conversationalist. When she was 21 years old, she moved to Springfield, Illinois, to live with her older sister, and became quite popular Springfield's society, dating Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln won her heart, and the two were married in 1842.

It is the birthday of German poet Heinrich Heine, born in Düsseldorf, Prussia (1797), most famous for The Book of Songs (1827), a work that is frequently set to music.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »