"I have wasted my life."
June 20, 2016 4:49 PM   Subscribe

 
I love this poem and I love these articles about it and I love thinking about other things that could replace this last line in this poem ("Poetry is dumb." "I left the oven on again." "Knicks in 7.") and I also love creating an imaginary tumblr site where this line is the caption of every New Yorker cartoon.

I have wasted this comment.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:56 PM on June 20, 2016 [29 favorites]


Idea: a greasemonkey script to append this line to every metafilter comment.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:57 PM on June 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


My take on it is pretty conventional but whatever: he's just thinking "I should be spending a lot more time in a hammock".
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:00 PM on June 20, 2016 [28 favorites]


Until I read the quote from Wright himself, I was thinking perhaps the man is in his hammock, seeing the wonder of nature, thinking about it and enjoying it, and he thinks to himself that the rest of his life is a waste, the time spent busy. His life is a waste because more of it did not lead to a blissful period in a hammock. But like most literary interpretation, this speaks more of me than of Wright.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:00 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


What Potomac Avenue said.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:00 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm in the 'all is vanity' camp and see the line to be as matter-of-fact as the rest of the poem. That very successful novelist David Mitchell can't believe it was meant sincerely doesn't surprise me.
posted by otio at 5:01 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am not familiar with this poem, but I have both been to Pine Island and wasted my life.
posted by ckape at 5:03 PM on June 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


"I have wasted my life dreaming in hammocks when I could be working hard at my job dreaming in hammocks."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:04 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I love poetry. That is all.
posted by town of cats at 5:11 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's a Simpsons quote.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:14 PM on June 20, 2016 [16 favorites]


[Reads down the first letters of each line] Nope, can't help you.
posted by user92371 at 5:24 PM on June 20, 2016 [23 favorites]


I am heading to Minnesota for vacation in not too long, and last weekend I was idly thinking about bringing my hammock. I think I'm going to, so I can do a little "primary research."
posted by wenestvedt at 5:34 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Must confess I thought this was going to be about Comic Book Guy. Thanks for culture.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:34 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have read
the article
that was in
the FPP

and which
you were probably
saving
for later

Forgive me
I have wasted my life
posted by a halcyon day at 5:36 PM on June 20, 2016 [28 favorites]


I thought I knew what the poet must have meant before I read it or the "how are we to understand ...?" page, and neither of those changed my mind: I think he meant 'I have wasted my life because I haven't wasted my time'.

My partner helped take care of the mother of one of her brother-in-laws, a devout Christian woman of Scandinavian descent and very formidable energy, but with advanced Alzheimer's.

For most of her last two years only two short phrases of expressive language remained to her, and she chanted them obsessively more or less alternately with great intensity of feeling as she rushed futilely around the house she'd lived in for 40-some years: "Holy, Holy, Holy!" and "hurry, hurry, hurry!"

During those two years I got very odd phone calls with those phrases either advancing or retreating in the background like the sirens of emergency vehicles in an alternate universe I'm very grateful not to ever have had to visit.

But in the last two weeks of her life, the inevitable (I suppose) finally happened, and the two phrases became one: "Hurly, Hurly, Hurly!"
posted by jamjam at 5:39 PM on June 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


The poet expresses his regrets at being an inspiration to Robert Bly
posted by thelonius at 5:47 PM on June 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


Knowing the last line and rereading the poem, I'm struck by all the images of passivity, decline, and emptiness. "Over my head" is not understood. Bronze is not gold or silver. Asleep. "Blowing like a leaf" is helplessness. "Down the ravine behind the empty house." Horse droppings. And yet every single one of these things is beautiful. I imagine the narrator's life feels both wasted and blessed.
posted by drdanger at 5:48 PM on June 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


Thought of another good replacement for the last line: "Delete Your Account"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:49 PM on June 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


And I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that was a waste of fucking time.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:51 PM on June 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


Or how about "I'd like to add you to my professional network on linkedin".
posted by selfnoise at 5:51 PM on June 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


'Gas thread, ban OP'
posted by Sebmojo at 5:55 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]



'What does God need with a starship?'
posted by Sebmojo at 5:59 PM on June 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


It's successful because it's both thoughts at once: I've wasted my life striving and I've wasted my life in this hammock. The immediate, recognizable tension is why it resonates. Anxiety in tranquility. This poem would not work if it ended like "I should get up and mow the lawn" or "I should spend more time out here." The ambiguity strikes at the heart of how meaningless life is, because both routes are ultimately unfulfilling and lead to thoughts like he's having. Sad.
posted by one_bean at 6:10 PM on June 20, 2016 [35 favorites]


Fact: If you change the last period in one_bean's comment into an exclamation point, it transforms into Donald Trump's magnificent final tweet
posted by theodolite at 6:13 PM on June 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


I spent a few hours tonight volunteering at our town's community farm. The chore I found waiting on the To Do list was, yes, to walk the fields of a New Egland farm, gathering up the stones heaved up over the winter, and carry them to the edge of the field. On the solstice. On a full moon evening that might last for hours.

I realized I ought to be having some kind of English Major's Epiphany, but my poetry prof was such a blowhard that I didn't read any poetry for like twenty years after I graduated...and I was, in the end, just collecting rocks.

Stupid poetry.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:14 PM on June 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


I used to hang out with a lot of poets and a really funny joke in those circles is you look at somebody with a super serious expression and then in a solemn tone say "I have basted my wife." and then everybody cracks up
posted by escabeche at 6:19 PM on June 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


In Pine Island, Minnesota
James Wright, while reclining, wrote a
Few lines with some wit
About rotten horse shit
But the cherry on top was the coda
posted by Kabanos at 6:33 PM on June 20, 2016 [23 favorites]


Nobody gave him hell for giving up iambics. You can’t win.

That's not a bad last line either.
posted by gwint at 6:36 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


How are we to understand "I've wasted my life?"

By being human and even the slightest bit introspective? Maybe while lying in a hammock?
posted by The World Famous at 6:47 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I noticed on my phone browser that there is a prominent link after the poem to "Report a problem with this poem." I think I know what they are asking for us to do here, but I wondered how many times a day they get an unrequested critique.
posted by Cassford at 7:55 PM on June 20, 2016 [16 favorites]


I went hiking in Limekiln State Park the other week with my boyfriend and as soon as we got there, told him "every minute of my life not spent in a Redwood forest has been a wasted minute." It wasn't a conscious reference to this poem but pretty sure I have seen it at some point in my life before so can't be sure it wasn't a totally independent reaching of the same conclusion. At any rate it surprises me that there is so much critical difference in the interpretation of that line -- the one by Potomac Avenue et. al. seems obviously "correct". In this case Metafilter isn't the one overthinking the plate of beans.
posted by phoenixy at 8:09 PM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, I have wasted my life!
posted by sparklemotion at 8:36 PM on June 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


This has been one of my favorite poems for a decade. I don't think many poems capture the rich ambiguities that make poetry worth a damn like this one does.

I also like that the hilariousness of the last line doesn't keep it from being profound, or vice versa. Sure, I bet a lot of people read it and giggle and move away. It'll haunt the rest of us just fine. Good poetry often works the way those seeds with nettles do: they make us carry them around, knowingly or not, until finally they hit something fertile and begin to sink their tendrils in.

Goddamn I love poetry.
posted by rorgy at 9:31 PM on June 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


This poem would not work if it ended like "I should get up and mow the lawn" or "I should spend more time out here."

Okay, maybe not, but it would have made me laugh pretty hard apparently
posted by stoneandstar at 10:48 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's like one of those moves in chess that, when later annotated, is followed by an exclamation mark.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:18 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


After having my first taste of Thai cooking at the age of thirty, I said, in all seriousness, "I've wasted thirty years of my life." It might not really have much to do with the poem, but holy shit, Thai food is good.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:36 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


of course y'all aren't seeing the little periods...

I have w.a.s.t.e.d my life.

He's in his hammock awaiting silent Trystero's empire.
posted by chavenet at 2:19 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's almost as if an assertive statement in a poem cannot be allowed to bear the same ambiguities and complex of meanings as the descriptive statements.
posted by ardgedee at 3:58 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


There once was a man in a hammock
With a view that was quite panoramic.
There were cowbells and hawks
And some horse poop -- or rocks?
His summation is psychodynamic.
posted by lore at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Thanks, I love overthinking a plate of poetry. (I've been reading a lot of Pasternak lately, and boy howdy, I've had a lot of "but what does that me-e-e-ean??" reaction.) Wright's response was interesting, but this drove me up the wall:
After I wrote the poem and after I published it, I was reading among the poems of the eleventh-century Persian poet, Ansari, and he used exactly the same phrase at a moment when he was happy. He said, “I have wasted my life.” Nobody gave him hell for giving up iambics. You can’t win.
No, Ansari didn't use "exactly the same phrase"! He wrote something in Persian that might or might not have had anything to do with that, and Jogendra Singh (who was not a professional translator and who, I'm guessing, was not scrupulously literal in his version of Ansari) rendered it “I have wasted my life” back in 1939. I mean, I'm sure it was fun for Wright to run into that line, and it's a nice thing to toss into the mix, but come on, a poet should be able to distinguish between author and translator.
posted by languagehat at 8:22 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


[Reads down the first letters of each line] Nope, can't help you.

J
O
H
N

C
E
N
A
posted by FatherDagon at 8:31 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Love this poem, for me the sense of both the richness but especially the inevitable futility of life, and how little that really matters. What are we doing here?
posted by emmet at 8:54 AM on June 21, 2016


Half my life ago, I was having drinks with some coworkers and a client, celebrating a court victory at a fishing cabin on the Deschutes River. The client was three times my age, but we'd been through some fire together, and our guards were down. He raised his glass, looked up at the star filled sky and recited a poem from memory. I think it was Wordsworth. The poem compared the stars in the sky to flowers in a field. I've looked for the poem since, and, of course, what I've found doesn't match my memory at being blown away not only by the poem itself, but also that he memorized it and saved it for the perfect moment.

I have a small group of poems in my wallet that I'm working on memorizing, looking ahead to that time when I can pass the wonder on to another...thanks for another one.
posted by dubwisened at 9:25 AM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Surprisingly, just enough cowbell.
posted by clavdivs at 3:20 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was not aware of this. Pine Island was just the town we passed through when I was a kid and I rode with my dad to the junkyard.
posted by littlewater at 11:28 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


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