the world is a mist...

Elizabeth Bishop


The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

--Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.


Bishop is a master of subtle motions. The music of her lines is never forced, is always natural to the ear. She writes in such a way - though with extreme deliberation, spanning decades on individual pieces - that the reader cannot imagine the lines unfolding in any other way.

The imagined world of a Bishop poem is always real and familiar - even if unkonwn to the reader. As a poet her gift is in detail.


Pris said...

You pick such good poems to feature.

Collin Kelley said...

Love this.

Anna G Raman said...

Toes of a bird...I have never thought of their feet that way, until now...

The grains always remind me of 'A dream within a dream' by Edgar Allen Poe.

Anonymous said...

I love Bishop - thanks for the read. I started reading "Rare and Commonplace Flowers" the novelization of Bishop and Soares life together. So far, so excellent.

James Owens said...

This is a great poem, but did Bishop write any bad poems (at least in the books she chose to publish)? She strikes an interesting balance between her own role as observer and imagining the subjectivity of the sandpiper. Nice to compare this with something like Ted Hughes's "Hawk Roosting."

LKD said...

"The beach hisses like fat."

My god, that's one hell of a good line.

I'd give my right arm to write a line like that.

A line like that shows me the beach in a way that I've never seen, felt, seen, experienced it before. A line like that meets Pound's seemingly impossible exhortation to "make it new!"

(Thanks for posting this poem, Sam. I've always held Bishop close to my heart. She's one of the first woman poets that really spoke to me and woke me up.

(And thanks for the bit from "The Things They Carried" you posted below. It's one of my all time favorite short stories. Ever since I read it in an English class a few years ago, it's been rattling around inside me like that small white stone that Martha sent to cross.)

My word verification is an actual word. "Scarce." I don't think I've ever had a real word for a word verification. And such a wonderful word.)

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Geography III is my favorite collection of poems. Thanks to all for the read.