Little Exercise

March 31, 2007 at 8:38 pm 1 comment

Elizabeth Bishop


Think of the storm roaming the sky uneasily
like a dog looking for a place to sleep in,
listen to it growling.

Think how they must look now, the mangrove keys
lying out there unresponsive to the lightning
in dark, coarse-fibred families,

where occasionally a heron may undo his head,
shake up his feathers, make an uncertain comment
when the surrounding water shines.

Think of the boulevard and the little palm trees
all stuck in rows, suddenly revealed
as fistfuls of limp fish-skeletons.

It is raining there. The boulevard
and its broken sidewalks with weeds in every crack,
are relieved to be wet, the sea to be freshened.

Now the storm goes away again in a series
of small, badly lit battle-scenes,
each in “Another part of the field.”

Think of someone sleeping in the bottom of a row-boat
tied to a mangrove root or the pile of a bridge;
think of him as uninjured, barely disturbed. 

If Lowell and sestinas come, can Bishop be far behind?

This is one of my favourite Elizabeth Bishop poems. I love how Bishop constructs the scene for us, with every stanza adding a new detail, a fresh perspective. I love the directness of the tone, the “Think” at the start of the stanza serving to both command and focus the reader’s attention and to introduce a note of casualness. Bishop manages to make this sound like an impromptu experiment, compelling the reader’s collaboration- but the sense of spontaneity (as in so much else of her writing) is carefully created.

Finally, I love the phrases themselves – the description of palm trees “revealed / as fistfuls of limp fish-skeletons” or the storm going away in “a series / of small, badly lit battle-scenes”. If we succeed in completing Bishop’s little exercise, succeed in picturing the scene in its entirety, it’s because she describes it so vividly.



Entry filed under: Elizabeth Bishop, English, Falstaff.

The Mouth of the Hudson Ottos Mops

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. sakshi  |  April 2, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    So many excellent images, I am still reeling. Each stanza could stand as a separate poem by itself.

    I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now, and I have loved almost every poem you have chosen to showcase.


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