Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Each day with so much ceremony
begins, with birds, with bells,
with whistles from a factory;
such white-gold skies our eyes
first open on, such brilliant walls
that for a moment we wonder
"Where is the music coming from, the energy?
The day was meant for what ineffable creature
we must have missed?" Oh promptly he
appears and takes his earthly nature
instantly, instantly falls
victim of long intrigue,
assuming memory and mortal
mortal fatigue.

More slowly falling into sight
and showering into stippled faces,
darkening, condensing all his light;
in spite of all the dreaming
squandered upon him with that look,
suffers our uses and abuses,
sinks through the drift of bodies,
sinks through the drift of classes
to evening to the beggar in the park
who, weary, without lamp or book
prepares stupendous studies:
the fiery event
of every day in endless
endless assent.

Today I participated in a seminar on Elisabeth Bishop and her poetry. At the end, after a series of very engaging reflections on some of her poems, I mentioned this poem. I couldn't point out much why it had always struck me profoundly, like the glow in a summer night in which the sort of Christ-like figure of the beggar appears as a revelation.
The lecturer found the poem intriguing even if he said he couldn't really understand it. I certainly can't say myself I "understand" it, but maybe, once more with poetry understanding is not really the matter.

I keep feeling the last four lines breathtaking. Gathering in a quiet, prodigious fist the gist of human condition.


Dave King said...

It's a lovely poem, and I guess that for starters that's enough. Poetry for me is more about feeling than intellectual understanding, though, obviously, involves both. I think I shall need to work on this a bit. I had read it before, though not studied it. I must say I had not seen the beggar as a Christ-like figure, though I see why you do. Thanks for this.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I've not read it before and would need to read it again to understand it.

I love the line 'white-gold skies our eyes'