To begin with, it is important to point out that Muttering over the Crib of a Deaf Child is not only one of the most impressive poems by James Wright, but also the example of his unique surrealistic tradition in poetry. The writer depicts the worries of two adults, who probably are the parents, about their deaf baby. He shows that the problem should not be viewed only from one pessimistic point of view. Being deaf does not mean being doomed; it means that a child would perceive the world around in a different way than the healthy people do. Interestingly, the poet has managed to depict the sad story in a unique, but not depressive way. The word choice and the imagery of the poem evokes the contradictory feelings and emotions of the reader. On one side, the replicas of the first person make one feel pity for a child, who is not likely to be happy because of his incapability, and parents, who worry about the baby. On the other side, the second person comforts the worries and brings the reader to deep and serious reflections, creates calm and philosophic mood.
From the title of the poem, as it shows that people are “muttering over the crib”, the reader can discover that Wright will be referring to a small baby, who has just started to live. Moreover, using the word “muttering” can be regarded as ironic and symbolic at the same time. From one point of view, there is no need to mutter or to talk calmly if the child is deaf. From the other point of view, choice of this word acknowledges that the deafness of a small boy does not mean that his future is hopeless, and he can feel or perceive the world worse than others do. The entire poem is based on the contrast between the attitudes of two adult people towards the deafness of the child.
The dialogue in the poem consists of the pessimistic replicas instantly followed by the optimistic and philosophic ones. Each new stanza is the replica of another person, whose views are opposite to the previous ones. At first, the mood of the pessimistic person, who worries about the life of the child, makes a reader upset, and the tone of the poem quite dull. The reflection on the fact that a boy will never feel like others, will not “hear the bell at school”, will know less than other kids make a reader sympathize the deaf boy. However, in the following stanza Wright offers to analyze the problem from a different point of view. If the words of the first person are referring to the auditory imagery, the second person emphasizes the importance of other senses, which can substitute it. For example, “the measure of the clock” can help to define that “the day is gone”, the “birchen boughs” can substitute the “starlings’ cry”. In such way, the visual imagery appears to be the same effective for the world perception as the auditory one.
In the next two stanzas, the pessimistic person again highlights the importance of hearing. This time he or she asks how this child will “know to rise at morning”. The second speaker points out that tactile and kinesthetic feelings not less important; and the boy will feel how “the air affects the skin”. Reminding that a person can “feel the dawn begin” without hearing it, the second person makes the reader remember these feelings, as each person knows what the kinesthetic and tactile feelings are like. Finally, the words of the optimistic person appear to be more convincing, and the reader’s emotions become more positive with each following stanza of the poem.
The last stanza emphasizes that the optimistic thoughts of the second person have influenced the views of the first one. It is obvious that both people understand that “all kind of arrangements” can be created “to serve his needs”. However, the issue of pain is raised as a boy can get “his finger bleed”. The response, which follows this question, is that the boy “will learn the pain” the same as all other people do. It becomes obvious that the problems with hearing will not create any obstacle for feeling the pain or other tactile sensations. Then the pessimistic person asks the most significant question about how the boy will be able to perceive the things, which are invisible and flute “like an angel off in the shade”. The first person implies that the child still will miss many beautiful things in life. The second speaker agrees that he will surely feel cruelty and moral pain. However, the support and love of the close people, who will “lift him into arms and sing”, will help to conquer everything negative. The words that the speaker would sing “no matter the boy would hear the song or not” emphasize that parents’ love is immortal and unconditional. Hence it is the best cure for all soul wounds
Numerous metaphors contribute to the settings of the poem. The image of an angel is chosen to show gratefulness and kindness while the bobwhite in the darkness is used as a symbol for the evil. Therefore, the boy will be lucky if he will not get to know the evil of the world. Finally, it is important to mention the images of birds in the poem. Wright mentioned such birds as the starlings, a bobwhite, whose signing appear to be not only the symbols of life sounds, but also the symbol of freedom. However, being unable to hear the beards does not make a boy unable to see or to feel them. Consequently, with the help of the deep reflections of the second hero, who is quite optimistic, the reader understands that being deaf can not become an obstacle to become free and happy.
To sum it up, the author emphasizes that life is a gift, and it is amazing. Even if a person has some disabilities it is not a reason to collapse. All feelings, be it visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic or other, let a person perceive the brightness of life. In order to sense this brightness it is not obligatory to have all of them, but possibly concentrate on each separate sense. The imagery of the poem first creates the dull, hopeless and desperate atmosphere, which later gets smoothly filled with optimism and hope for the better future of the handicapped child. That is why as the dialogue of two speakers reveals, the belief that the deaf boy still has a chance to have full and happy life wins. Finally, in the title of the poem and in the last stanza James Wright emphasizes the significance of the unconditional love of the close people for each person; everyone needs to be “lifted into arms” and soothed no matter what.