Alan Williamson: On "Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota"

[Williamson cites the entire poem.] The relation of the "I" to this poem of almost pure sensation is self-evidently problematic: two quite impersoanl occurrences, followed by a statement so deep as to seem nearly universal – all the more so, perhaps, because it is a quotation from another poem [Arthur] Rimbaud’s "Song of the Highest Tower" ("J’ai perdu ma vie" [French: "I have lost my life"}). The critic A. Poulin [in Contemporary American Poetry, 2nd Edition (Boston: Houghton Miflin, 1975), p. 464] has misidentified the source of as the last line of [Rainer Maria] Rilke’s "Archaic Torso of Apollo" ("Du must dein Leben ändern"[German: "You must change your life"]), but there is reason in his error: Wright’s last line, like Rilke’s. forces the reader to go back and relive the previous, the apparently objective, part of the poem in order to come to terms with it.

… The image of the horse droppings offers a far more complicated, but still serene, sense of temporal process – one involving continuity ("last year’s), transmutation into mineral permanence ("golden stones") but also beautiful consumption ("Blaze up"). Insofar as one can paraphrase at all, the poem sees in a process – even a decay – that is continually productive of new beauty, the kind of visionary perfection we habitually associate with permanence alone. I suspect a Freudian undercurrent, too, in the fact that such an important position in the poem is given to dung; Wright could hardly help being aware of the theories which associate our early feelings about our own feces with the development of the categories – so crucial to our sense of being a part, or not apart, of the physical world – of subject and object, beauty and ugliness, saving and losing.

It is the evening and the chicken hawk that toll Wright back to his sole self. The verb "floats," with its strong sense of indefinite location in time and space, itself contrasts strongly with the harmonious centrality of everything else in the poem; then, we are told that the hawk is "looking for home." But the hawk, presumably, will find its home easily (perhaps this is why "floats" suggests buoyancy, as well as indefiniteness); whereas the human consciousness the hawk brings to mind can know the feeling of being fully at home in the physical world, fully alive, only at such brief and special moments as the poem records. Such moments seem possible, too, only when the human world is remote; the house in the poem is empty. Thus, it is the very specialness of the moment that gives birth to the sense of a surrounding waste.


Title Alan Williamson: On "Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Criticism Target James Wright
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 25 Mar 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Introspection and Contemporary Poetry
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