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

by 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.

I’ve loved this poem for years for its sense of  peace and relaxation.  More recently, however, I have come to appreciate its Zen underpinnings.  

Zen Moment #1: The narrator has stopped his life to sit–-or, in this case, lie down—and notice what is going on around him.

Zen Moment #2:  The details make it clear that the narrator is experiencing, practicing, and more importantly, BENEFITTING, from Mindfulness and Present Moment Awareness.  Poetry ALWAYS rocks Mindfulness because it forces us to notice.

Zen Moment #3:  This poem focuses on the appreciation and sanctity of the ordinary and mundane.  Any poem that celebrates horse droppings as “golden stones” shows us that even the most humble element of life has its holiness.

Zen Moment #4:  Finally, and this is my favorite part, I love the power of the final line.  There is an irony, even sarcasm,  in the way the narrator says it and we understand that he not only does not feel he is “wasting” his life but, in fact, understands that what he is doing is adding meaning and value to his existence.

In thirteen lines, James Wright has provided those of us who want to listen with a blueprint for being in the moment, being here now.

I, for one, intend to listen. TZT