by James Wright (1927-1980)
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.
This poem reminds me of Quadrille by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Some people might think of it as a cheap use of a punchline, but it works for me. I love punchlines—they make you reread the whole thing with a new frame of mind. This poem at first seems to be a fairly standard nature piece, but the last line, “I have wasted my life,” changes all that. But like Quadrille, it turns into a poem about nothing. Ignore all of description; life is meaningless. Or at least his life has been meaningless. Poetry is great. I have wasted my life.