In The Fields of Praise, Marilyn Nelson claims as subjects the life of the spirit, the vicissitudes of love, and the African American experience since slavery and arranges them as pebbles marking our common journey toward a “monstrous love that wants to make the world right.”
Nelson is a poet of stunning power, able to bring alive the most rarified and subtle of experiences. A slave destined to become a minister preaches sermons of heartrending eloquence and wisdom to a mule. An old woman scrubbing over a washtub receives a personal revelation of what Emancipation means: “So this is freedom: the peace of hours like these.” Memories of the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen in the face of aerial combat abroad and virulent racism at home bring a speaker to the sudden awareness of herself as the daughter “of a thousand proud fathers.”
Whether evoking spiritual longing or a return to the wedding at Cana, Nelson renders the interior landscape of all her speakers with absolute precision. This is a beautiful collection indeed, and readers will come away from The Fields of Praise with a reawakened appreciation for life’s minor miracles, one of them being the power of the word.
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