Having just addressed myself to James Wright's poem "The Blessing," I found that I couldn't let him go, for rereading "The Blessing" led me to another of his most admired poems, one bearing close kinship to "The Blessing."
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’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 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.
Like "The Blessing" but with more diverse interpretation, discussion in critical circles has focused particularly on the last lines—in this instance on the single last line, "I have wasted my life." In relation to "The Blessing," there is considerable agreement that the poet's experience of the ponies in the pasture inspire a recognition of transcendence. Here, however, there is more wonder about the suddenness and ambiguity of the last line, almost at the expense of examining its relationship to the lines above, the butterfly, cowbell and horse droppings, the coming of evening and the chicken hawk's looking for home. How has the poet concluded that he has wasted his life? Analogy with "The Blessing" suggests a sense of mystery, even grandeur, in the natural world that has eluded him, prompting a dark conviction of his life wasted. But the critical response to the last line of "Lying in a Hammock" is rich in confusion and variety. As an article in The Paris Review (where the poem was first published) puts it:
"[T]hat last line has inspired reams of analysis and debate—is it a lament? Is it a joke, a kind of boast? Did Wright intend to undercut or to bolster his pastoral scene with it?" Wright himself characterized the line as "a religious statement... here I am and I’m not straining myself and yet I’m happy at this moment, and perhaps I’ve been wastefully unhappy in the past because through my arrogance or whatever, and in my blindness, I haven’t allowed myself to pay true attention to what was around me," a characterization similar to the consensual understanding of the conclusion of "The Blessing." His friend Robert Bly writes similarly, "In poems 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."