ENGL 150: Intro to Literary Studies

This essay was written on November 7th, 2017 for ENGL 150: Introduction to Literary Studies, taught by Dr. John Neary. This essay reflects on “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” written by James Wright. Here, the word “solitude” takes an unusually positive approach as Wright reflects upon his time in nature.

Solitude Within A Hammock 

The feeling of solitude often has a negative connotation because of the way loneliness is sometimes portrayed. Within James Wright’s, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” the feeling of solitude is portrayed in a positive way as Wright finds peace within nature. I find that I am most at peace and happiest when I am alone in nature as well. When I am there, I am able to completely enjoy my surroundings without any distractions. Wright and I have a similar feeling towards solitude in that for both of us, being completely encompassed within nature brings us an overwhelming sense of peace and happiness. 

James Wright tells a story of when he was able to escape the real world and become completely encompassed within nature. He uses selective imagery to portray the beauty of being alone in nature in his first three lines. “Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,/Asleep on the black trunk,/Blowing like a leaf in green shadow” (Lines 1-3). The image of one butterfly against a dark background also gives the implication that the man is alone. Although the butterfly is up against a background that would make it seem as though it is completely alone on the tree, Wright describes it as “bronze” and describes it to be “blowing life a leaf” which gives the butterfly a rich image. This rich image helps the reader to understand that Wright enjoys being alone because he is able to capture the beauty that surrounds him. 

Wright is also able to find beauty within the not-so-beautiful things within nature but appreciates it due to the happiness he feels within his solitude. “In a field of sunlight between two pines,/The droppings of last year’s horses/Blaze up into golden stones” (Lines 8-10). The feeling of overly contentment is implied when Wright finds delight in horse droppings, something that would normally take away from the beauty in the moment. These droppings, similarly to the butterfly, are paired with images of fire and bronze colors. These colors give portray feelings of warmth and comfort. With that, Wright is able to give the reader a sense of comfort in being alone in nature. 

The experience Wright has had in the hammock made him realize that he should have appreciated the beauty within nature more throughout his life. This is shown in the last line of his poem. “I have wasted my life” (Line 13). In looking at this line alone, it could be suspected that Wright lived a regretful life. In reading this line with the rest of the poem, it can be gathered that his experience with solitude gave him a new appreciation for nature. It can be assumed that Wright lived a very busy, fast paced life, which presumably means that he never had time to sit in a hammock alone within nature. His experience in hammock opened his eyes for him to appreciate the small things within nature that make the experience of being alone enjoyable rather than lonely. 

Wright and I have similar feelings towards being alone within nature in that we both feel a sense of comfort when we are encompassed in the world around us. My experiences with being alone in nature began at the summer camp I attended growing up. As a child, my counselors at camp would lead us on mini hikes and point out to us all of the beautiful things that we would see. This gave me an eye for the little things in nature that make life beautiful. I now work at the summer camp that taught me to appreciate the beauty within nature. I find that it is important to teach my campers how important it is to stop for a second and look around at the beauty that surrounds them. Our camp has a lot of wooded areas and is also located on a small lake. This gives our campers many opportunities to see the different ways nature can appear beautiful. Whether they’re looking at a colorful bug they found, observing the way the sun sparkles on the lake, or watching the embers dance in a campfire at the end of the day, my campers have learned to find beauty within nature the same way that I did.

Camp isn’t the only place I find myself comforted when in nature. Skiing is another place I am able to be completely alone within nature. My favorite place to ski is out in Colorado. There, the runs are longer and provide more opportunities to be alone. I like to ski by myself so I can truly appreciate the environment around me. My favorite thing is looking up at the towering pine trees and listening to the sound of the skis carving into the snow. For some, being alone in this situation is scary. For me, it is comforting and brings an overwhelming sense of happiness. I absolutely love being outside and surrounded by the incredibly beautiful scenery. 

At the end of his poem, Wright tells how he feels like he should have appreciated the beauty within nature more throughout his life. I believe that this is an important and very intentional ending because it teaches a lesson. Whoever reads this poem should think about all of the chances they have to experience nature. I am lucky enough to have numerous opportunities to be able to go out and appreciate nature in different ways. I felt similarly to how Wright felt at the end of his poem because I recognize that I do not have many opportunities to get outside while at school. This can be difficult for me sometimes because of the comfort I do get in being outside and totally encompassed within nature. This though, makes me appreciate the natural world around me when I do get to get back outside. It almost feels as though I am returning home.

James Wright’s poem, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota,” portrays solitude in a positive way because of his appreciation for the beauty within nature. I generally do not enjoy being alone but I find that when I am alone within nature, I feel an overwhelming sense of comfort and happiness. Wright and I have similar feelings and have had similar experiences within nature that allows us to portray solitude in similar ways because of the comfort and contentment we feel when surrounded by the natural world around us.

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