Category Archives: James Wright

Poet as Translator — James Wright (1927-1980)

Ohio born poet, James Wright, is someone whose poetry I stumbled across a few years ago. Last year he was also one of the poets I blogged about here during April, National Poetry Month (including in that blog copies of his poems “Just Before a Thunder Shower” and “A Blessing”).

It is believed that Wright’s childhood, where he witnessed poverty and struggle in the factory town where he was born and raised, made him sensitive to social and political concerns often reflected in his writing. Wright also displayed the ability to depict profound human issues and emotions, modeling his work after writers Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, whom he admired.

What is interesting is that Wright is known as well for his translations (something I did not know until very recently) of German, Norwegian and Spanish poetry, to name a few. Here are two poems – one by Spanish poet, Juan Ramon Jimenez (1881-1958), and the other a Norweigan poem from circa 1000 whose writer is anonymous.

The Dawn Brings With It (from Eternidades by Juan Ramon Jimenez)

The dawn brings with it
that sadness of arriving, by train,
at a station that is not one’s own.
How disagreeable, those rumblings
of a new day that one knows cannot last long —
—Oh my life! —
Overhead, as the day breaks, a child is crying.

–James Wright

Two Spring Charms (fragments from the Norwegian)

Now it is late winter.

Years ago,
I walked through a spring wind
Bending green wheat
In a field near Trondhjem.

Black snow,
Like a strange sea creature,
Draws back into itself,
Restoring grass to earth.

–James Wright

James Wright


Born in the Midwest, poet James Wright (1927-1980) it is said, was haunted all his life by the poverty and despair he experienced while growing up during the Depression in an Ohio factory town.  It was his good fortune that as an adult he was able to escape, attending college where his writing thrived under the guidance of accomplished professor poets.  Wright went on to earn his Ph.D. in literature and was able to procure academic teaching jobs during this lifetime.

Wright’s poetry evolved as he continued to write and he became a well-respected poet known “for his willingness and ability to experiment with language and style, as well as for his thematic concerns.”   I first encountered Wright’s poetry while searching a few years ago for modern “American” poets during this very same time frame, i.e. National Poetry Month.   I find Wright’s poems to be hard to interpret at times yet strangely rewarding when the meaning can be understood.  When I am unable to grasp one of his poems, it is usually that for me his imagery proves to be too complex and elusive (in those instances the poem is, I guess you would say, “over my head” much to my chagrin).

Just Before a Thunder Shower

Cribs loaded with roughage huddle together

Before the north clouds.

The wind tiptoes between poplars, carrying its shoes.

The silver-maple leaves squint

Toward the ground.

An old farmer, his scarlet face

Apologetic with whiskey, swings back a barn door

And calls twenty black-and-white Holsteins

From the clover field.

(published 1961)

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.

(published 1963)

****For more in-depth insight on the poet James Wright, here is a link to the blog “The Compass Rose” that featured a discussion in May 2010 about this poet and his work: