nectarhoff: The Art of the Punchline

The Art of the Punchline

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island Minnesota 
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.

- 5/26/14


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