Lying in a Hammock; A controversial Ending The poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” by James Wright has a very controversial and debatable ending. Throughout the poem, Wright describes what is around him in what seems to be a calm, relaxed tone. He states “Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, Asleep on the black trunk, Blowing like a leaf in green shadow” (Barnet, Burton and Cain 530) explaining how he is physically relaxed and is noticing all of his surroundings. His tone is rather dreamlike, almost as if he is in a different state of mind.
In the last sentence, Wright states “I have wasted my life”, yet is unclear on how so, for the rest of the poem does not really explain why. While many critics think he is saying he wasted his life laying in a hammock and daydreaming all day, I believe just the opposite. I think that Wright is saying he wasted his life being too busy and did not take the time to relax in a hammock and take in the beauty of the nature around him. What I find most intriguing about this poem, is that Wright left it up to the reader to decide how they would like to interpret the ending.
A close examination of “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” reveals that he is noticing all of the minute details in the nature around him, and is taking in the scenery and animals. This is not something that someone would do if they were lying in a hammock daydreaming and wasting their life away. Another way of interpreting this surprising ending is to believe that it means nothing. Thom Gunn states “The final line is perhaps exciting because we are surprised to encounter something so different… but it is certainly meaningless” (Modern American Poetry 1).
This point of view is completely different from the other two discussed, for it is saying that the last line has no purpose. Gunn says “The more one searches for an explicit meaning in it, the vaguer it becomes” (Modern American Poetry 1), which in a sense, it does, but I still believe the last sentence is there for a reason. Wright describes in detail what he is seeing while he is laying in a hammock, and Bruce Henrickson believes the opposite of Gunn. Henrickson says “I take each image to be an epiphany, arranged in order of increasing power, leading to the discovery of a subjective correlative in the final line” (Modern American Poetry 1).
The idea of there being no meaning at all in the last line, and the idea of there being meaning behind every detail in the poem are very conflicting thoughts. Both of these critics’ impressions of the poem are unique and different, yet I still believe the last line has a deeper meaning. Even if one believes the last line has a hidden meaning, there can still be different interpretations of it. As said in the introduction, one can understand the last line “I have wasted my life” in two different ways.
One idea is that Wright has wasted his life up to that point by not enjoying the subtle things around him. The other is that Wright has wasted his life lying in a hammock not doing anything productive. R. J. Spendal believes that Wright is saying he has wasted his life by doing nothing. “[The central conflict…] is the opposition between an impulse to change and failure or inability to do so” (Spendal 1). Spendal is saying that Wright is aware that he has wasted his life, but is frustrated and is unwilling to change.
The chicken hawk that was “looking for home” represents Wright, and his quest for fulfillment. But just like the bird, Wright “floats” and does not heartily pursue his dreams (Spendal 1). The end of the poem where Wright says “I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on” is a metaphor for Wright giving up and resigning to a state of irresolution, where Spendal says “this hardly seems the posture of aroused insight”. Spendal is certain that Wright does not want to change, and that he is not having some sort of life changing epiphany at the end.
I believe the opposite- that Wright has suddenly realized he should do something with his life and not waste it like he has been. The nature of this poem is what really lead me to believe that Wright had had a sudden realization about his life. Wright’s tone and description showed that he was seeing these details for the first time and that he did not usually lie in a hammock and relax like this. When Wright says: “I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on”, I interpret that as being the moment when he finally relaxes and realizes what he has been missing.
Unlike Spendal’s idea of that being a metaphor for giving up, I believe he is having an epiphany and it suddenly hits him that he has wasted his life. In a conversation between Bruce Henrickson and James Wright, Wright says: “…looking back on that poem I think that final line … is a religious statement …perhaps I’ve been wastefully unhappy in the past because through my arrogance or whatever… I haven’t allowed myself to pay true attention to what was around me” (Modern American Poetry 1).
Wright even says himself that he hadn’t allowed himself to slow down and notice the beauty surrounding him, so he had wasted his life up until that point. “Wright was an innovator, especially in the use of his titles, first lines, and last lines, which he used to great dramatic effect…” (Wikipedia 1), which goes to show that he is known for his shocking endings or strangely long titles. “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” is one of Wright’s best known poems, not only for its grace but for its debatable ending.
Critics have many different opinions about what Wright meant by saying “I have wasted my life”. Whether they thought it had no meaning at all, or that it meant he wasted his time lying in a hammock, anything could be the answer. My conclusion is that Wright recognized he had been missing out on the little things around him while he was lying on the hammock. The tone and details are what led me to believe this, even without the support of agreeing critics. Although many critics argue against my conclusion, I feel they have neglected to take in the poem as a whole. Wright finally realized what he had been missing.