The Letter Project

September 5, 2010

Special Delivery (63)

Filed under: Letters — Theresa Williams @ 12:50 am
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In this letter, Mike Judge works out a very personal interpretation of one of James Wright’s poems.  Mike’s excitement invites us to a close reading of the poem and reminds of how deeply pleasurable reading poetry can be:

First Days, really holds a lot of value to me. Perhaps, after I have shared my thoughts, then you will understand the reason behind the depths of my infatuation.

Dear Ricky,

I’m very excited to write to you today! On this special occasion, I’m going to be discussing in detail one of James Wright’s poems that I very briefly mentioned to you in my last letter. I have come to realize that the poem, First Days, really holds a lot of value to me. Perhaps, after I have shared my thoughts, then you will understand the reason behind the depths of my infatuation.

One of the greatest reasons as to why I treasure this poem as much as I do is because I can see a lot of connections between this poem and the fall of man from the Bible (the actions that took place in the Garden of Eden). Even if one were to look at the poem’s title alone, they would discover the theme of the creation the world. “The First Days” is an easy parallel to the beginning of mankind.

Within this poem, the narrator plays the voice of God and the bee is the representative of humanity. As I know that you are well read on this topic, perhaps you can look out for them as well.

The First Days

The first thing I saw in the morning

Was a huge golden bee ploughing

His burly right shoulder into the belly

Of a sleek yellow pear

Low on a bough.

Before he could find that sudden black honey

That squirms in there

Inside the seed…

Already, in this poem, we can see this idea that it is the beginning of time being played out. This is exhibited through the first line of the poem, “The first thing I saw in the morning” (keep in mind that this is God speaking so that the poem makes sense). Then, God goes on to explain that he had found a “golden bee ploughing” into the center of a pear in pursuit of the “black honey that squirms around in there.” As I’ve emphasized, Wright is careful illustrate the current state of the bee: “golden” and pure. The bee is not yet tainted, but it is growing awfully close. Once it has reached the “black honey” that he is after, he will be truly golden no more. It is interesting to note the commonalities in the object of fruit being that which led to both the fall of man and to the fall of the bee; for, in the next line, the bee will quite literally plummet.

…the tree could not bear any more.

The pear fell to the ground,

With the bee still half alive

Inside its body.

The bee has fallen. His pursuit of “black honey” has led it to a broken state, as noted in the line, “The pear fell to the ground, / With the bee still half alive / inside its body.” This is exactly like man’s fall. Before Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were fully alive in their same exact bodies. However, once they had sinned they were left fractured, without the direct community with God that they had previously had. Sin entered the world, although their physical bodies stayed the same.

Wright goes on to explain God’s grace in the next portion of the poem. He writes:

He would have died if I hadn’t knelt down

And sliced the pear gently

A little more open.

As we can see, both the narrator and God are gracious enough to give the fallen creatures another chance. Both the bee and mankind did not deserve a second chance; each of them selfishly pursued their own desires rather than their superiors. Even so, the fallen still receive the gift of another chance to live. How wonderful it is to have been given such an opportunity!

The poem continues with:

The bee shuddered, and returned.

Maybe I should have left him alone there,

Drowning in his own delight.

Here we see the bee’s response. It acknowledges its mistake and returns to its everyday life as a changed bee. This passage also comments on an alternative path that the narrator or God could have taken. He could have left us there alone to die; trapped in the prisons that we placed ourselves in. Like before, this exhibits God’s grace for us even through our errors. Without God coming along and freeing us we would still be as the bee, “drowning in” our “own delight:” each of the selfish things that we humans get involved in.

Wright tastefully concluded his poem with a reflection on the poem’s title and a thought on the bee’s future.

The best days are the first

To flee, sang the lovely

Musician born in this town

So like my own.

I let the bee go

Among the gasworks at the edge of Mantua.

Again, “The best days are the first to flee,” is an unfortunate truth that Wright comments on. We then see him transition into the bee’s future. The bee, a fallen creature, is left to live amongst the obstacle-natured “gasworks.” Similarly, we, broken humans, are left to live within a “half alive” world. These gasworks are Wrights choice way of explaining the struggle that both the bee and humanity must face since each of their respective falls.

I have a question for you to ask yourself. What would have happened if the bee had chosen to return to his fruit instead? Or, what would have happened if the bee would have resisted the narrator in the first place? What would its life be like now? These are questions that are helpful to think about, and questions that I want to discuss with you in my next letter that will be arriving sometime in the near future.

I wish you well, Ricky. I hope that your studies keep on going well, and that your time spent reading this letter was enjoyable.

Take care, my friend!



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