Friday, February 08, 2008

Elizabeth Bishop

Today is Elizabeth Bishop's birthday. I don't have time this morning for a lengthy post giving you all sorts of reasons why, if you don't know this marvelous poet's work, you should, so instead I'll provide here the concluding lines of the last "movement" of her poem "At the Fishhouses" (go here to see the proper layout of the text--except for the double-spacing). Be sure to read it out loud:

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

3 comments:

Amy said...

I have always loved that poem. Thanks for reminding me of it, and EB's birthday.

John B. said...

Thank you, Amy. Not that I don't like the whole poem, but this part just seems to come out of nowhere--in a good way--by comparison to the rest of it . . . as though she's stuck her hand into the aether and pulled this out. However she did it, I'm just glad she did.

Amy said...

Yep, that's the part I like too.