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.