Saturday, 27 September 2014

Day 800: The 'Wasted' Life

This poem has a certain startling ambiguity, a bit like Frost's 'The Road Not Taken.' When Wright says unexpectedly at the end that he has 'wasted his life', after recounting to us all the details of his pastoral surrounding scene, lying in a hammock, taking it easy, we wonder is this what he means. For to notice everything with this attention is surely not wasteful, but quite the opposite? 

This poem was quoted by author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) in a recent article series in The Atlantic, which asks writers to talk about their favourite passages from literature. Mitchell talks about how this poem urges us to stay inside the moment. You can read his discussion of the poem here:

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota - James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,   
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.   
Down the ravine behind the 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.


  1. This is beautiful - one of my favourites. It has such an indolence to it, and feels so lazy and golden, and then those closing lines bring you up short and make you read the whole thing again. Beautiful..

    1. Hi Cheryl, yes it is lovely and lazy and easy isn't it. What do you make of the last line? A recrimination, realisation or complete opposite? perhaps the rural setting has thrown light on his life...
      Did you read David Mitchell's piece on it? Very interesting.


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