Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 2: Elizabeth Bishop

American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) is one of my favorites of all time, and “The Fish” is one of my favorite poems of hers (not solely for its topic, mind you).

For my 100th post on this blog, samples of lines from “The Fish” and from her longer poem “The Moose” follow. Other great Bishop poems include, among others, “One Art” and “Filling Station.” I mentioned the latter here on Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day, 2014.

Excerpts from “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop, published in 1946:

He didn't fight. 
He hadn't fought at all. 
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. (lines 5-9)

I thought of the course 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. (lines 27-33)

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. (lines 34-44)

the turning point:

. . . from his lower lip 
--if you could call it a lip--
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line, . . . . 
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw. . . . (lines 48-51, 61-64)

To take in more great descriptive details and find out what happens with the fish, see the whole poem.

Set in New Brunswick, Canada, here is an excerpt (lines 1-26) from “The Moose” by Elizabeth Bishop, published in 1976, thirty years after “The Fish” and three years before her passing:

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, . . . .

When my college poetry professor first introduced us to Elizabeth Bishop, she said “The Moose” was widely agreed upon as the definitive example of her poetry. Obviously, I like it very much, too. Now that I’ve gotten you started, you have less of an excuse not to read the rest of this beautiful poem. And, yes, the travellers do encounter a moose.

A comprehensive collection of Bishop’s complete poems is available on Amazon.com.

Check out the next featured poem and poet in the series, the daffodils of Wordsworth.

And ICYMI: The start of this nature verse series consists of two posts exploring the theme of sunshine: Famous Poets’ Nature Poems, 1: Sun Spots, featuring four different poets’ work, and Famous Poets’ Nature Poems, 1a: “The Sunlight on the Garden,” with part of a poem by Louis MacNeice.

5 thoughts on “Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 2: Elizabeth Bishop

  1. Pingback: Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 3: Wordsworth’s Daffodils | Philosofishal

  2. Pingback: Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 1a: “The Sunlight on the Garden” | Philosofishal

  3. Pingback: Poetry Month–It’s Coming! | Philosofishal

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  5. Pingback: Famous Poets’ Nature Poetry, 5: Of Mice, Men and Robert Burns | Philosofishal

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