by Elizabeth Bishop


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374532369
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 02/01/2011
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 109,133
Product dimensions: 5.88(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Bishop (1911–79) won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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By Elizabeth Bishop

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2011 Alice H. Methfessel Trust Publisher's Note
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-8942-2


    The Map

    Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
    Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
    showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
    where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
    Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
    drawing it unperturbed around itself?
    Along the fine tan sandy shelf
    is the land tugging at the sea from under?

    The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
    Labrador's yellow, where the moony Eskimo
    has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
    under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
    or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
    The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
    the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
    —the printer here experiencing the same excitement
    as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
    These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
    like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

    Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
    lending the land their waves' own conformation:
    and Norway's hare runs south in agitation,
    profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
    Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
    —What suits the character or the native waters best.
    Topography displays no favorites; North's as near as West.
    More delicate than the historians' are the map-makers' colors.

    The Imaginary Iceberg

    We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship,
    although it meant the end of travel.
    Although it stood stock-still like cloudy rock
    and all the sea were moving marble.
    We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship;
    we'd rather own this breathing plain of snow
    though the ship's sails were laid upon the sea
    as the snow lies undissolved upon the water.
    O solemn, floating field,
    are you aware an iceberg takes repose
    with you, and when it wakes may pasture on your snows?

    This is a scene a sailor'd give his eyes for.
    The ship's ignored. The iceberg rises
    and sinks again; its glassy pinnacles
    correct elliptics in the sky.
    This is a scene where he who treads the boards
    is artlessly rhetorical. The curtain
    is light enough to rise on finest ropes
    that airy twists of snow provide.
    The wits of these white peaks
    spar with the sun. Its weight the iceberg dares
    upon a shifting stage and stands and stares.

    This iceberg cuts its facets from within.
    Like jewelry from a grave
    it saves itself perpetually and adorns
    only itself, perhaps the snows
    which so surprise us lying on the sea.
    Good-bye, we say, good-bye, the ship steers off
    where waves give in to one another's waves
    and clouds run in a warmer sky.
    Icebergs behoove the soul
    (both being self-made from elements least visible)
    to see them so: fleshed, fair, erected indivisible.


    Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
    trying to recite "The boy stood on
    the burning deck." Love's the son
    stood stammering elocution
    while the poor ship in flames went down.

    Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
    even the swimming sailors, who
    would like a schoolroom platform, too,
    or an excuse to stay
    on deck. And love's the burning boy.

    The Colder the Air

    We must admire her perfect aim,
    this huntress of the winter air
    whose level weapon needs no sight,
    if it were not that everywhere
    her game is sure, her shot is right.
    The least of us could do the same.

    The chalky birds or boats stand still,
    reducing her conditions of chance;
    air's gallery marks identically
    the narrow gallery of her glance.
    The target-center in her eye
    is equally her aim and will.

    Time's in her pocket, ticking loud
    on one stalled second. She'll consult
    not time nor circumstance. She calls
    on atmosphere for her result.
    (It is this clock that later falls
    in wheels and chimes of leaf and cloud.)

    Wading at Wellfleet

    In one of the Assyrian wars
    a chariot first saw the light
    that bore sharp blades around its wheels.

    That chariot from Assyria
    went rolling down mechanically
    to take the warriors by the heels.

    A thousand warriors in the sea
    could not consider such a war
    as that the sea itself contrives

    but hasn't put in action yet.
    This morning's glitterings reveal
    the sea is "all a case of knives."

    Lying so close, they catch the sun,
    the spokes directed at the shin.
    The chariot front is blue and great.

    The war rests wholly with the waves:
    they try revolving, but the wheels
    give way; they will not bear the weight.

    Chemin de Fer

    Alone on the railroad track
    I walked with pounding heart.
    The ties were too close together
    or maybe too far apart.

    The scenery was impoverished:
    scrub-pine and oak; beyond
    its mingled gray-green foliage
    I saw the little pond

    where the dirty hermit lives,
    lie like an old tear
    holding onto its injuries
    lucidly year after year.

    The hermit shot off his shot-gun
    and the tree by his cabin shook.
    Over the pond went a ripple.
    The pet hen went chook-chook.

    "Love should be put into action!"
    screamed the old hermit.
    Across the pond an echo
    tried and tried to confirm it.

    The Gentleman of Shalott

    Which eye's his eye?
    Which limb lies
    next the mirror?
    For neither is clearer
    nor a different color
    than the other,
    nor meets a stranger
    in this arrangement
    of leg and leg and
    arm and so on.
    To his mind
    it's the indication
    of a mirrored reflection
    somewhere along the line
    of what we call the spine.

    He felt in modesty
    his person was
    half looking-glass,
    for why should he
    be doubled?
    The glass must stretch
    down his middle,
    or rather down the edge.
    But he's in doubt
    as to which side's in or out
    of the mirror.
    There's little margin for error,
    but there's no proof, either.
    And if half his head's reflected,
    thought, he thinks, might be affected.

    But he's resigned
    to such economical design.
    If the glass slips
    he's in a fix—
    only one leg, etc. But
    while it stays put
    he can walk and run
    and his hands can clasp one
    another. The uncertainty
    he says he
    finds exhilarating. He loves
    that sense of constant re-adjustment.
    He wishes to be quoted as saying at present:
    "Half is enough."

    Large Bad Picture

    Remembering the Strait of Belle Isle or
    some northerly harbor of Labrador,
    before he became a schoolteacher
    a great-uncle painted a big picture.

    Receding for miles on either side
    into a flushed, still sky
    are overhanging pale blue cliffs
    hundreds of feet high,

    their bases fretted by little arches,
    the entrances to caves
    running in along the level of a bay
    masked by perfect waves.

    On the middle of that quiet floor
    sits a fleet of small black ships,
    square-rigged, sails furled, motionless,
    their spars like burnt match-sticks.

    And high above them, over the tall cliffs'
    semi-translucent ranks,
    are scribbled hundreds of fine black birds
    hanging in n's in banks.

    One can hear their crying, crying,
    the only sound there is
    except for occasional sighing
    as a large aquatic animal breathes.

    In the pink light
    the small red sun goes rolling, rolling,
    round and round and round at the same height
    in perpetual sunset, comprehensive, consoling,

    while the ships consider it.
    Apparently they have reached their destination.
    It would be hard to say what brought them there,
    commerce or contemplation.

    From the Country to the City

    The long, long legs,
    league-boots of land, that carry the city nowhere, the lines
    that we drive on (satin-stripes on harlequin's trousers, tights);
    his tough trunk dressed in tatters, scribbled over with nonsensical signs;
    his shadowy, tall dunce-cap; and, best of all his shows and sights,
    his brain appears, throned in "fantastic triumph," and shines through his hat
    with jeweled works at work at intermeshing crowns, lamé with lights.
    As we approach, wickedest clown, your heart and head, we can see that
    glittering arrangement of your brain consists, now, of mermaid-like,
    seated, ravishing sirens, each waving her hand-mirror; and we start at
    series of slight disturbances up in the telephone wires on the turnpike.
    Flocks of short, shining wires seem to be flying sidewise. Are they birds?
    They flash again. No. They are vibrations of the tuning-fork you hold and strike
    against the mirror-frames, then draw for miles, your dreams, out countrywards.
    We bring a message from the long black length of body: "Subside," it begs and begs.

    The Man-Moth

    Here, above,
    cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
    The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
    It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
    and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
    He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
    feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
    of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.

    But when the Man-Moth
    pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
    the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
    from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
    and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
    He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
    proving the sky quite useless for protection.
    He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can

    Up the façades,
    his shadow dragging like a photographer's cloth behind him,
    he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
    to push his small head through that round clean opening
    and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
    (Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
    But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
    he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.

    Then he returns
    to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
    he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
    fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
    The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
    and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
    without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
    He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.

    Each night he must
    be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
    Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
    his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,
    for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
    runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
    he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
    his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

    If you catch him,
    hold up a flashlight to his eye. It's all dark pupil,
    an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
    as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
    one tear, his only possession, like the bee's sting, slips.
    Slyly he palms it, and if you're not paying attention
    he'll swallow it. However, if you watch, he'll hand it over;
    cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

    Love Lies Sleeping

    Earliest morning, switching all the tracks
    that cross the sky from cinder star to star,
    coupling the ends of streets
    to trains of light,

    now draw us into daylight in our beds;
    and clear away what presses on the brain:
    put out the neon shapes
    that float and swell and glare

    down the gray avenue between the eyes
    in pinks and yellows, letters and twitching signs.
    Hang-over moons, wane, wane!
    From the window I see

    an immense city, carefully revealed,
    made delicate by over-workmanship,
    detail upon detail,
    cornice upon façade

    reaching so languidly up into
    a weak white sky, it seems to waver there.
    (Where it has slowly grown
    in skies of water-glass

    from fused beads of iron and copper crystals,
    the little chemical "garden" in a jar
    trembles and stands again,
    pale blue, blue-green, and brick.)

    The sparrows hurriedly begin their play.
    Then, in the West, "Boom!" and a cloud of smoke.
    "Boom!" and the exploding ball
    of blossom blooms again.

    (And all the employees who work in plants
    where such a sound says "Danger," or once said
    turn in their sleep and feel
    the short hairs bristling

    on backs of necks.) The cloud of smoke moves off.
    A shirt is taken off a threadlike clothes-line.
    Along the street below
    the water-wagon comes

    throwing its hissing, snowy fan across
    peelings and newspapers. The water dries
    light-dry, dark-wet, the pattern
    of the cool watermelon.

    I hear the day-springs of the morning strike
    from stony walls and halls and iron beds,
    scattered or grouped cascades,
    alarms for the expected:

    queer cupids of all persons getting up,
    whose evening meal they will prepare all day,
    you will dine well
    on his heart, on his, and his,

    so send them about your business affectionately,
    dragging in the streets their unique loves.
    Scourge them with roses only,
    be light as helium,

    for always to one, or several, morning comes,
    whose head has fallen over the edge of his bed,
    whose face is turned
    so that the image of

    the city grows down into his open eyes
    inverted and distorted. No. I mean
    distorted and revealed,
    if he sees it at all.


Excerpted from Poems by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 2011 Alice H. Methfessel Trust Publisher's Note. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Publisher's Note,
APPENDIX I: Selected Unpublished Manuscript Poems,
APPENDIX II: Contents of Elizabeth Bishop's Books of Poetry on First Publication, 1946–1977,
Index of Titles and First Lines,
Also by Elizabeth Bishop,

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