The poem is a wonderful example of how simple language can be used to create meaningful and powerful imagery. Readers aren’t going to have a hard time understanding Wright’s imagery in ‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,’ but that doesn’t make it any less effective.
Explore Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota’ by James Wright is a beautiful poem that includes a speaker’s thoughts about a farm.
The speaker uses thoughtful and entrancing language to describe farmland they’re visiting. They are resting in a hammock, looking around them, and describing everything they see. This includes a butterfly, the way the sun lights the ground, cowbells, a chicken hawk, and more. These beautiful images make the speaker think that however they’ve previously been living their life—it’s been wrong. A life in the country, surrounded by beautiful natural sights and sounds is how they should’ve been living all along.
You can read the full poem here.
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Into the distances of the afternoon.
In the first lines of ‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,’ the speaker begins by bringing the reader directly into a scene. They are in the hammock, as described in the title, and watching “the bronze butterfly” on the “black trunk” of a tree. It’s blowing in the breeze “like a leaf in green shadow.” These initial images set the scene. They also provide the reader with an understanding of how much attention the speaker is paying to their surroundings. They are seeing what’s close by and hearing, as the next lines reveal, what’s in the distance.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
When looking around their surroundings further, the speaker notes the “field of sunlight between two pines,” the horse droppings, and eventually experiences the evening coming on. These are simple, country sights and sounds. These things are likely quite familiar to some readers and exotic to others.
For the speaker, this is not the world they’re used to. But, they’re finding themselves incredibly moved by it. So much so that they end the poem by saying that they’ve “wasted” their life. The beauty in the previous lines suggests that the speaker is drawn in by nature and country life and realizes that this is where they should’ve spent their time. They lived a different life, perhaps one in the city, driven by a career, social climbing, and other contemporary attachments that are very different from the chicken hawk, sunlight, and butterflies they’re seeing now.
Throughout ‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,’ Wright engages with themes of nature and life. His speaker contemplates the live they’ve lived up until this point and realizes that they’ve been living wrong. There was another way to live, in the country, surrounded by the sights and sounds included in this poem, and it was always the answer. They know now, or at least they feel in this moment, that they’ve wasted their life living differently.
The natural world has a value all its own, one that feels more important and more worthwhile than the speaker’s usual environment. Although it’s unclear where the speaker is from or how they’d been living previously, it makes sense to assume they’re from the city and are not used to this kind of life.
Structure and Form
‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota’ by James Wright is a thirteen-lined poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
The endings do not rhyme and the lines are of varying lengths, ranging from three syllables up to twelve. Wright chose to use direct language in this poem, making it easy for readers to understand what he’s written and come to their own conclusions about the purpose of the poem.
Throughout ‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,’ Wright makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “bronze butterfly” and “black” and “blowing” in lines two and three.
- Imagery: can be seen when the writer uses especially vibrant images. For example: “The droppings of last year’s horses / Blaze up into golden stones.”
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, “I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.”
- Simile: a comparison between two unlike things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.”
The purpose is to depict how purposeful and worthwhile living in the country, among nature, is. The speaker realizes that this is where the true purpose of life lies and the poet was likely hoping to get the reader to consider the same.
The tone is considerate, peaceful, and direct. The speaker is clearly observing the world around them and comes to a realization about their life. This is not glossed over in order to make it easier to digest. They state outright that they have “wasted” their “life.”
The mood is peaceful and contemplative. Readers might find themselves considering the same things about the purpose of life that the speaker does.
The speaker is someone who is unfamiliar with the sights and sounds described in the poem. They are used to living a different kind of life and when they experienced William Duffy’s farm they realized they’d been wasting theirs. It’s unclear if the speaker is a man or a woman.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape’ by John Ashbery – is an unusual poem that uses the cartoon characters from Popeye to speak about American, middle-class dissatisfaction.
- ‘Follower’ by Seamus Heaney – is a retrospective piece that describes how the poet used to go plowing with his father in his childhood days.
- ‘Innocence’ by Patrick Kavanagh – describes the deep connection a farmer has to his land and the farmer’s immortal sense of being.