Elizabeth Bishop |
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.
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;
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.
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,
A dog gives one bark.
A woman climbs in
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
"A grand night.
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.
Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
--not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
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.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.
" that peculiar
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.
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man's voice assures us
Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
"Sure are big creatures.
"It's awful plain.
"Look! It's a she!"
Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?
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.
Robert Burns |
’TWAS 1 in that place o’ Scotland’s isle,
That bears the name o’ auld King Coil,
Upon a bonie day in June,
When wearin’ thro’ the afternoon,
Twa dogs, that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather’d ance upon a time.
The first I’ll name, they ca’d him Caesar,
Was keepit for His Honor’s pleasure:
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Shew’d he was nane o’ Scotland’s dogs;
But whalpit some place far abroad,
Whare sailors gang to fish for cod.
His locked, letter’d, braw brass collar
Shew’d him the gentleman an’ scholar;
But though he was o’ high degree,
The fient a pride, nae pride had he;
But wad hae spent an hour caressin,
Ev’n wi’ al tinkler-gipsy’s messin:
At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, tho’ e’er sae duddie,
But he wad stan’t, as glad to see him,
An’ stroan’t on stanes an’ hillocks wi’ him.
The tither was a ploughman’s collie—
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,
Wha for his friend an’ comrade had him,
And in freak had Luath ca’d him,
After some dog in Highland Sang, 2
Was made lang syne,—Lord knows how lang.
He was a gash an’ faithfu’ tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.
His honest, sonsie, baws’nt face
Aye gat him friends in ilka place;
His breast was white, his touzie back
Weel clad wi’ coat o’ glossy black;
His gawsie tail, wi’ upward curl,
Hung owre his hurdie’s wi’ a swirl.
Nae doubt but they were fain o’ ither,
And unco pack an’ thick thegither;
Wi’ social nose whiles snuff’d an’ snowkit;
Whiles mice an’ moudieworts they howkit;
Whiles scour’d awa’ in lang excursion,
An’ worry’d ither in diversion;
Until wi’ daffin’ weary grown
Upon a knowe they set them down.
An’ there began a lang digression.
About the “lords o’ the creation.
CÆSAR I’ve aften wonder’d, honest Luath,
What sort o’ life poor dogs like you have;
An’ when the gentry’s life I saw,
What way poor bodies liv’d ava.
Our laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kane, an’ a’ his stents:
He rises when he likes himsel’;
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He ca’s his coach; he ca’s his horse;
He draws a bonie silken purse,
As lang’s my tail, where, thro’ the steeks,
The yellow letter’d Geordie keeks.
Frae morn to e’en, it’s nought but toiling
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An’ tho’ the gentry first are stechin,
Yet ev’n the ha’ folk fill their pechan
Wi’ sauce, ragouts, an’ sic like trashtrie,
That’s little short o’ downright wastrie.
Our whipper-in, wee, blasted wonner,
Poor, worthless elf, it eats a dinner,
Better than ony tenant-man
His Honour has in a’ the lan’:
An’ what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it’s past my comprehension.
LUATH Trowth, C&æsar, whiles they’re fash’t eneugh:
A cottar howkin in a sheugh,
Wi’ dirty stanes biggin a dyke,
Baring a quarry, an’ sic like;
Himsel’, a wife, he thus sustains,
A smytrie o’ wee duddie weans,
An’ nought but his han’-daurk, to keep
Them right an’ tight in thack an’ rape.
An’ when they meet wi’ sair disasters,
Like loss o’ health or want o’ masters,
Ye maist wad think, a wee touch langer,
An’ they maun starve o’ cauld an’ hunger:
But how it comes, I never kent yet,
They’re maistly wonderfu’ contented;
An’ buirdly chiels, an’ clever hizzies,
Are bred in sic a way as this is.
CÆSAR But then to see how ye’re negleckit,
How huff’d, an’ cuff’d, an’ disrespeckit!
Lord man, our gentry care as little
For delvers, ditchers, an’ sic cattle;
They gang as saucy by poor folk,
As I wad by a stinkin brock.
I’ve notic’d, on our laird’s court-day,—
An’ mony a time my heart’s been wae,—
Poor tenant bodies, scant o’cash,
How they maun thole a factor’s snash;
He’ll stamp an’ threaten, curse an’ swear
He’ll apprehend them, poind their gear;
While they maun stan’, wi’ aspect humble,
An’ hear it a’, an’ fear an’ tremble!
I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor-folk maun be wretches!
LUATH They’re no sae wretched’s ane wad think.
Tho’ constantly on poortith’s brink,
They’re sae accustom’d wi’ the sight,
The view o’t gives them little fright.
Then chance and fortune are sae guided,
They’re aye in less or mair provided:
An’ tho’ fatigued wi’ close employment,
A blink o’ rest’s a sweet enjoyment.
The dearest comfort o’ their lives,
Their grushie weans an’ faithfu’ wives;
The prattling things are just their pride,
That sweetens a’ their fire-side.
An’ whiles twalpennie worth o’ nappy
Can mak the bodies unco happy:
They lay aside their private cares,
To mind the Kirk and State affairs;
They’ll talk o’ patronage an’ priests,
Wi’ kindling fury i’ their breasts,
Or tell what new taxation’s comin,
An’ ferlie at the folk in Lon’on.
As bleak-fac’d Hallowmass returns,
They get the jovial, rantin kirns,
When rural life, of ev’ry station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, an’ social Mirth
Forgets there’s Care upo’ the earth.
That merry day the year begins,
They bar the door on frosty win’s;
The nappy reeks wi’ mantling ream,
An’ sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntin pipe, an’ sneeshin mill,
Are handed round wi’ right guid will;
The cantie auld folks crackin crouse,
The young anes rantin thro’ the house—
My heart has been sae fain to see them,
That I for joy hae barkit wi’ them.
Still it’s owre true that ye hae said,
Sic game is now owre aften play’d;
There’s mony a creditable stock
O’ decent, honest, fawsont folk,
Are riven out baith root an’ branch,
Some rascal’s pridefu’ greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himsel the faster
In favour wi’ some gentle master,
Wha, aiblins, thrang a parliamentin,
For Britain’s guid his saul indentin—
CÆSAR Haith, lad, ye little ken about it:
For Britain’s guid! guid faith! I doubt it.
Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him:
An’ saying ay or no’s they bid him:
At operas an’ plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading:
Or maybe, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais takes a waft,
To mak a tour an’ tak a whirl,
To learn bon ton, an’ see the worl’.
There, at Vienna, or Versailles,
He rives his father’s auld entails;
Or by Madrid he takes the rout,
To thrum guitars an’ fecht wi’ nowt;
Or down Italian vista startles,
Wh-re-hunting amang groves o’ myrtles:
Then bowses drumlie German-water,
To mak himsel look fair an’ fatter,
An’ clear the consequential sorrows,
Love-gifts of Carnival signoras.
For Britain’s guid! for her destruction!
Wi’ dissipation, feud, an’ faction.
LUATH Hech, man! dear sirs! is that the gate
They waste sae mony a braw estate!
Are we sae foughten an’ harass’d
For gear to gang that gate at last?
O would they stay aback frae courts,
An’ please themsels wi’ country sports,
It wad for ev’ry ane be better,
The laird, the tenant, an’ the cotter!
For thae frank, rantin, ramblin billies,
Feint haet o’ them’s ill-hearted fellows;
Except for breakin o’ their timmer,
Or speakin lightly o’ their limmer,
Or shootin of a hare or moor-cock,
The ne’er-a-bit they’re ill to poor folk,
But will ye tell me, Master C&æsar,
Sure great folk’s life’s a life o’ pleasure?
Nae cauld nor hunger e’er can steer them,
The very thought o’t need na fear them.
CÆSAR L—d, man, were ye but whiles whare I am,
The gentles, ye wad ne’er envy them!
It’s true, they need na starve or sweat,
Thro’ winter’s cauld, or simmer’s heat:
They’ve nae sair wark to craze their banes,
An’ fill auld age wi’ grips an’ granes:
But human bodies are sic fools,
For a’ their colleges an’ schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them,
They mak enow themsel’s to vex them;
An’ aye the less they hae to sturt them,
In like proportion, less will hurt them.
A country fellow at the pleugh,
His acre’s till’d, he’s right eneugh;
A country girl at her wheel,
Her dizzen’s dune, she’s unco weel;
But gentlemen, an’ ladies warst,
Wi’ ev’n-down want o’ wark are curst.
They loiter, lounging, lank an’ lazy;
Tho’ deil-haet ails them, yet uneasy;
Their days insipid, dull, an’ tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, lang, an’ restless.
An’ev’n their sports, their balls an’ races,
Their galloping through public places,
There’s sic parade, sic pomp, an’ art,
The joy can scarcely reach the heart.
The men cast out in party-matches,
Then sowther a’ in deep debauches.
Ae night they’re mad wi’ drink an’ whoring,
Niest day their life is past enduring.
The ladies arm-in-arm in clusters,
As great an’ gracious a’ as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts o’ ither,
They’re a’ run-deils an’ jads thegither.
Whiles, owre the wee bit cup an’ platie,
They sip the scandal-potion pretty;
Or lee-lang nights, wi’ crabbit leuks
Pore owre the devil’s pictur’d beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer’s stackyard,
An’ cheat like ony unhanged blackguard.
There’s some exceptions, man an’ woman;
But this is gentry’s life in common.
By this, the sun was out of sight,
An’ darker gloamin brought the night;
The bum-clock humm’d wi’ lazy drone;
The kye stood rowtin i’ the loan;
When up they gat an’ shook their lugs,
Rejoic’d they werena men but dogs;
An’ each took aff his several way,
Resolv’d to meet some ither day.
Luath was Burns’ own dog.
Cuchullin’s dog in Ossian’s “Fingal.