Sunday poem on a Tuesday

Lying in a Hammock at a Friend’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota


Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,

Asleep on the black trunk,

Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.

Down the ravine behind Duffy’s empty house,

The cowbells follow one another

Into the distances of the afternoon.

To my right,

In a field of sunlight between two pines,

The droppings of last year’s horses

Blaze up into golden stones

I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.

A chicken-hawk floats over, looking for home.

I have wasted my life.

— James Wright


For me this poem is all about the last line, or more precise: what the meaning of the last line is in relation to everything that comes before.

Sometimes I think I prefer poetry in English because English isn’t my mother tongue, and thus my room for interpretation (& misinterpretation) is greater. But in the case of “Lying in a Hammock at a Friend’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” it seems I’m not the only one rambling around in possible reinterpretations.

For good discussions on the matter you can have a look here:

and here:

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Laura Morgan says:

    I have to admit I’d never given much thought to the last line of this poem, except that I felt it was somehow something positive, so I really enjoyed the links – thank-you Sigrun! – especially this from Robert Bly’s analysis: “…the deepest thoughts are often the most painful thoughts, and they come to consciousness only despite the rationalist road-blocks, by slipping past the defenses of the ego”. It doesn’t directly relate to the poem’s last line, but instead why Bly feels Gunn misinterprets it, but my god, how true!

    1. Sigrun says:

      I also felt the last line as good – but I wondered why: how come “I have wasted my life” seems promising – .

  2. Harold Rhenisch says:


    There’s a lovely turn on “life” being “the living energy of the universe in an energized object or being” and “life” being “the narrative of a person within society”.

    He uses the difference to link the last line to the rest of the poem, and to confuse the two in our minds so that the energy of one flows through the energy of the other, and as with all things in the poem, illuminates it with light.

    If you take the “I” here to be the Whitmanesque “I” = “everyman”, then he is saying, “I, America, have laid waste to the earth, and the promise, given to me.”

    The first of your reinterpretations is caught up in the formalist/non-formalist debate, without having a lot to say (because it doesn’t openly state its case.)

    The second is more interesting, but still not given by a person experienced at using poetic logic.

    It sure would be fun to write up a little essay, with the poem and the two comments woven in. It would be even more valuable to hear your thoughts on the last line and to weave those in as well.

    I’m hoping you might share.



  3. Sigrun says:

    – , maybe one way would be to re-write it through a translation – just to see what happens?


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