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Best Famous Elizabeth Bishop Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous Elizabeth Bishop poems. This is a select list of the best famous Elizabeth Bishop poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous Elizabeth Bishop poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of Elizabeth Bishop poems.

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12
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

Questions of Travel

 There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams 
hurry too rapidly down to the sea, 
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops 
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion, 
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains, aren't waterfalls yet, in a quick age or so, as ages go here, they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling, the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships, slime-hung and barnacled.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here? Where should we be today? Is it right to be watching strangers in a play in this strangest of theatres? What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life in our bodies, we are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around? The tiniest green hummingbird in the world? To stare at some inexplicable old stonework, inexplicable and impenetrable, at any view, instantly seen and always, always delightful? Oh, must we dream our dreams and have them, too? And have we room for one more folded sunset, still quite warm? But surely it would have been a pity not to have seen the trees along this road, really exaggerated in their beauty, not to have seen them gesturing like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard the sad, two-noted, wooden tune of disparate wooden clogs carelessly clacking over a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.
) --A pity not to have heard the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird who sings above the broken gasoline pump in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque: three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered, blurr'dly and inconclusively, on what connection can exist for centuries between the crudest wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear and, careful and finicky, the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain so much like politicians' speeches: two hours of unrelenting oratory and then a sudden golden silence in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes: "Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places, not just stay at home? Or could Pascal have been not entirely right about just sitting quietly in one's room? Continent, city, country, society: the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there .
.
.
No.
Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?"
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

The Fish

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely.
Here and there his brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper, and its pattern of darker brown was like wallpaper: shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles, fine rosettes of lime, and infested with tiny white sea-lice, and underneath two or three rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in the terrible oxygen --the frightening gills, fresh and crisp with blood, that can cut so badly-- I thought of the coarse white flesh packed in like feathers, the big bones and the little bones, the dramatic reds and blacks of his shiny entrails, and the pink swim-bladder like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes which were far larger than mine but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil seen through the lenses of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face, the mechanism of his jaw, and then I saw that from his lower lip --if you could call it a lip grim, wet, and weaponlike, hung five old pieces of fish-line, or four and a wire leader with the swivel still attached, with all their five big hooks grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end where he broke it, two heavier lines, and a fine black thread still crimped from the strain and snap when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering, a five-haired beard of wisdom trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared and victory filled up the little rented boat, from the pool of bilge where oil had spread a rainbow around the rusted engine to the bailer rusted orange, the sun-cracked thwarts, the oarlocks on their strings, the gunnels--until everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! And I let the fish go.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

Sestina

 September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother sits in the kitchen with the child beside the Little Marvel Stove, reading the jokes from the almanac, laughing and talking to hide her tears.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears and the rain that beats on the roof of the house were both foretold by the almanac, but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child, It's time for tea now; but the child is watching the teakettle's small hard tears dance like mad on the hot black stove, the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother hangs up the clever almanac on its string.
Birdlike, the almanac hovers half open above the child, hovers above the old grandmother and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.
It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house and a winding pathway.
Then the child puts in a man with buttons like tears and shows it proudly to the grandmother.
But secretly, while the grandmother busies herself about the stove, the little moons fall down like tears from between the pages of the almanac into the flower bed the child has carefully placed in the front of the house.
Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove and the child draws another inscrutable house.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

Seascape

 This celestial seascape, with white herons got up as angels,
flying high as they want and as far as they want sidewise 
in tiers and tiers of immaculate reflections; 
the whole region, from the highest heron 
down to the weightless mangrove island 
with bright green leaves edged neatly with bird-droppings 
like illumination in silver, 
and down to the suggestively Gothic arches of the mangrove roots
and the beautiful pea-green back-pasture 
where occasionally a fish jumps, like a wildflower 
in an ornamental spray of spray; 
this cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry for a Pope: 
it does look like heaven.
But a skeletal lighthouse standing there in black and white clerical dress, who lives on his nerves, thinks he knows better.
He thinks that hell rages below his iron feet, that that is why the shallow water is so warm, and he knows that heaven is not like this.
Heaven is not like flying or swimming, but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare and when it gets dark he will remember something strongly worded to say on the subject.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

The Moose

 From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats 
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats'
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.
Goodbye to the elms, to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts.
The light grows richer; the fog, shifting, salty, thin, comes closing in.
Its cold, round crystals form and slide and settle in the white hens' feathers, in gray glazed cabbages, on the cabbage roses and lupins like apostles; the sweet peas cling to their wet white string on the whitewashed fences; bumblebees creep inside the foxgloves, and evening commences.
One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies Lower, Middle, Upper; Five Islands, Five Houses, where a woman shakes a tablecloth out after supper.
A pale flickering.
Gone.
The Tantramar marshes and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles and a loose plank rattles but doesn't give way.
On the left, a red light swims through the dark: a ship's port lantern.
Two rubber boots show, illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.
A woman climbs in with two market bags, brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night.
Yes, sir, all the way to Boston.
" She regards us amicably.
Moonlight as we enter the New Brunswick woods, hairy, scratchy, splintery; moonlight and mist caught in them like lamb's wool on bushes in a pasture.
The passengers lie back.
Snores.
Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation begins in the night, a gentle, auditory, slow hallucination.
.
.
.
In the creakings and noises, an old conversation --not concerning us, but recognizable, somewhere, back in the bus: Grandparents' voices uninterruptedly talking, in Eternity: names being mentioned, things cleared up finally; what he said, what she said, who got pensioned; deaths, deaths and sicknesses; the year he remarried; the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost when the schooner foundered.
He took to drink.
Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray even in the store and finally the family had to put him away.
"Yes .
.
.
" that peculiar affirmative.
"Yes .
.
.
" A sharp, indrawn breath, half groan, half acceptance, that means "Life's like that.
We know it (also death).
" Talking the way they talked in the old featherbed, peacefully, on and on, dim lamplight in the hall, down in the kitchen, the dog tucked in her shawl.
Now, it's all right now even to fall asleep just as on all those nights.
--Suddenly the bus driver stops with a jolt, turns off his lights.
A moose has come out of the impenetrable wood and stands there, looms, rather, in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at the bus's hot hood.
Towering, antlerless, high as a church, homely as a house (or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us "Perfectly harmless.
.
.
.
" Some of the passengers exclaim in whispers, childishly, softly, "Sure are big creatures.
" "It's awful plain.
" "Look! It's a she!" Taking her time, she looks the bus over, grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel (we all feel) this sweet sensation of joy? "Curious creatures," says our quiet driver, rolling his r's.
"Look at that, would you.
" Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer, by craning backward, the moose can be seen on the moonlit macadam; then there's a dim smell of moose, an acrid smell of gasoline.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

Roosters

 At four o'clock
in the gun-metal blue dark
we hear the first crow of the first cock

just below
the gun-metal blue window
and immediately there is an echo

off in the distance,
then one from the backyard fence,
then one, with horrible insistence,

grates like a wet match 
from the broccoli patch,
flares,and all over town begins to catch.
Cries galore come from the water-closet door, from the dropping-plastered henhouse floor, where in the blue blur their rusting wives admire, the roosters brace their cruel feet and glare with stupid eyes while from their beaks there rise the uncontrolled, traditional cries.
Deep from protruding chests in green-gold medals dressed, planned to command and terrorize the rest, the many wives who lead hens' lives of being courted and despised; deep from raw throats a senseless order floats all over town.
A rooster gloats over our beds from rusty irons sheds and fences made from old bedsteads, over our churches where the tin rooster perches, over our little wooden northern houses, making sallies from all the muddy alleys, marking out maps like Rand McNally's: glass-headed pins, oil-golds and copper greens, anthracite blues, alizarins, each one an active displacement in perspective; each screaming, "This is where I live!" Each screaming "Get up! Stop dreaming!" Roosters, what are you projecting? You, whom the Greeks elected to shoot at on a post, who struggled when sacrificed, you whom they labeled "Very combative.
.
.
" what right have you to give commands and tell us how to live, cry "Here!" and "Here!" and wake us here where are unwanted love, conceit and war? The crown of red set on your little head is charged with all your fighting blood Yes, that excrescence makes a most virile presence, plus all that vulgar beauty of iridescence Now in mid-air by two they fight each other.
Down comes a first flame-feather, and one is flying, with raging heroism defying even the sensation of dying.
And one has fallen but still above the town his torn-out, bloodied feathers drift down; and what he sung no matter.
He is flung on the gray ash-heap, lies in dung with his dead wives with open, bloody eyes, while those metallic feathers oxidize.
St.
Peter's sin was worse than that of Magdalen whose sin was of the flesh alone; of spirit, Peter's, falling, beneath the flares, among the "servants and officers.
" Old holy sculpture could set it all together in one small scene, past and future: Christ stands amazed, Peter, two fingers raised to surprised lips, both as if dazed.
But in between a little cock is seen carved on a dim column in the travertine, explained by gallus canit; flet Petrus underneath it, There is inescapable hope, the pivot; yes, and there Peter's tears run down our chanticleer's sides and gem his spurs.
Tear-encrusted thick as a medieval relic he waits.
Poor Peter, heart-sick, still cannot guess those cock-a-doodles yet might bless, his dreadful rooster come to mean forgiveness, a new weathervane on basilica and barn, and that outside the Lateran there would always be a bronze cock on a porphyry pillar so the people and the Pope might see that event the Prince of the Apostles long since had been forgiven, and to convince all the assembly that "Deny deny deny" is not all the roosters cry.
In the morning a low light is floating in the backyard, and gilding from underneath the broccoli, leaf by leaf; how could the night have come to grief? gilding the tiny floating swallow's belly and lines of pink cloud in the sky, the day's preamble like wandering lines in marble, The cocks are now almost inaudible.
The sun climbs in, following "to see the end," faithful as enemy, or friend.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day.
Accept the fluster of lost door keys the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
Then practice losing farther losing faster: places and names and where it was your meant to travel.
None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother's watch.
And look! my last or next-to-last of three loved housed went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
I lose two cities lovely ones.
And vaster some realms I owned two rivers a continent.
I miss them but it wasn't a disaster.
--Even losing you (the joking voice a gesture I love) I shan't have lied.
It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

In the waiting Room

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter.
It got dark early.
The waiting room was full of grown-up people, arctics and overcoats, lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside what seemed like a long time and while I waited and read the National Geographic (I could read) and carefully studied the photographs: the inside of a volcano, black, and full of ashes; then it was spilling over in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson dressed in riding breeches, laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole "Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads wound round and round with string; black, naked women with necks wound round and round with wire like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover: the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside, came an oh! of pain --Aunt Consuelo's voice-- not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised; even then I knew she was a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed, but wasn't.
What took me completely by surprise was that it was me: my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all I was my foolish aunt, I--we--were falling, falling, our eyes glued to the cover of the National Geographic, February, 1918.
I said to myself: three days and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop the sensation of falling off the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I, you are an Elizabeth, you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too? I scarcely dared to look to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance --I couldn't look any higher-- at shadowy gray knees, trousers and skirts and boots and different pairs of hands lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger had ever happened, that nothing stranger could ever happen.
Why should I be my aunt, or me, or anyone? What similarities boots, hands, the family voice I felt in my throat, or even the National Geographic and those awful hanging breasts held us all together or made us all just one? How I didn't know any word for it how "unlikely".
.
.
How had I come to be here, like them, and overhear a cry of pain that could have got loud and worse but hadn't? The waiting room was bright and too hot.
It was sliding beneath a big black wave, another, and another.
Then I was back in it.
The War was on.
Outside, in Worcester, Massachusetts, were night and slush and cold, and it was still the fifth of February, 1918.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

The Bight

 [On my birthday]


At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed, the water in the bight doesn't wet anything, the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ocher dredge at work off the end of the dock already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize.
Pelicans crash into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard, it seems to me, like pickaxes, rarely coming up with anything to show for it, and going off with humorous elbowings.
Black-and-white man-of-war birds soar on impalpable drafts and open their tails like scissors on the curves or tense them like wishbones, till they tremble.
The frowsy sponge boats keep coming in with the obliging air of retrievers, bristling with jackstraw gaffs and hooks and decorated with bobbles of sponges.
There is a fence of chicken wire along the dock where, glinting like little plowshares, the blue-gray shark tails are hung up to dry for the Chinese-restaurant trade.
Some of the little white boats are still piled up against each other, or lie on their sides, stove in, and not yet salvaged, if they ever will be, from the last bad storm, like torn-open, unanswered letters.
The bight is littered with old correspondences.
Click.
Click.
Goes the dredge, and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues, awful but cheerful.
Written by Elizabeth Bishop | Create an image from this poem

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.
The 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.
12