Essay on Milkweed

James Wright’s “Milkweed” is a sensitive, perhaps even sentimental account of the author’s feelings towards his the plant that symbolizes mercy and forgiveness. In a short narrative of only 12 lines, the author succeeds in conveying the longing for care that has failed somewhere in the world of people and seeks refuge in the animal world.

The author begins with a picturesque description of the small house, later going over to the depiction of the little plant. The landscape drawn with only a few features nevertheless appears vividly in the reader’s mind. The main target of the poem is the little milkweed that stands out as a symbol of mercy, as something that has arrived from a different world. In this sense the portrayal of the plant is deeply symbolic and metaphorical. The plant is endowed with features not usually found in lifeless things, such as ability to “love” the author in “secret”. Although the milkweed is “wild”, it is also “gentle”, an attribute that would be adequate in the description of a girl. This personification of the plant allows the author to convey the feeling that the milkweed is the essence of mercy and love in this world.

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The metaphor of the milkweed allows the reader a glimpse into the author’s thoughts and ideas. It seems likely that the person that has become so attached to the little plant finds little other joy in life and has developed a real hunger for mercy and care. The plant thus probably comes to replace the warmth that is missing from human interaction. This is definitely an imaginary love that the author dreams about, something he found to replace “whatever it was [he] lost, whatever [he] wept for.” The author thus turns to nature, like many of those in desperate state of mind, seeking the last resort from failures experienced in the human world.

The poem abounds in metaphors. The “delicate creatures” that fill the air are probably just pollen, yet the author with the strength of his imagination transfers them into creatures “from the other world”. Parts of the plant are described as “small dark eyes”.

“Milkweed” is composed in blank verse that adds to the strength of the impression, making it sound more naturally like a simple narrative rather than an artistic creation. It is in fact composed of only five sentences, with three of them long, with extended attributes and lots of parallel structures like “the small house, white walls” and “whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for”. The two middle sentences are short and convey the sense of abrupt change in the poet’s surroundings: “I look down now. It is all changed.” The title is one of the most important elements of the work as without it the reader would be unable to understand what the author meant, as the metaphorical language makes identification of the little plant difficult.

Wright’s poem is a metaphorical piece that shows the reader how a simple object can be transformed by poetic fancy to achieve an almost human status. The poem reminds one of the need for love and care that are inherent in man and seek an outlet under any circumstances.

References:
Wright, James. Milkweed.

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