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Elizabeth Bishop, “The Armadillo”

You can link to the poem here:


I’ve never been quite satisfied with the ending of this poem. What a delight the rest is though! Throughout, there’s an extraordinary sensitivity of movement. Take the way the first two stanzas expand and contract metrically. This surely echoes the expansion and contraction of the beating heart, subliminally embedding a feeling of the heart’s life in the very texture of the verse even before the heart itself is mentioned. Even more, though, it suggests the pulsations of feeling and thought, the swelling of enthusiasm, the hesitations of doubt and discouragement . The swelling … Continue Reading

Elizabeth Bishop, “The Riverman”

I was amazed to find that “The Riverman” isn’t on PoemHunter even though the selection of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems offered there is pretty generous in other ways. I think it’s one of her very finest. It’s instantly accessible, it prints itself vividly on the memory after a single reading and it makes a fresh impact every time you read it. I think it’s one of the best, most constantly gripping narrative poems I’ve read, partly because it’s one of the subtlest poetic monologues I know, whose “story” is a fantasy revealing the life and yearnings of the speaker.

Bishop uses simple … Continue Reading

Visiting Namibia. The Man-Moth’s eye.

Our recent camping trip in Namibia gave me a new feeling for one detail in Elizabeth Bishop’s brilliantly understated exploration of loneliness, fear and pain, “The Man-Moth”:


                                                               If you catch him

                 hold up a flashlight to his eye. It’s all dark pupil,

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J. M. Coetzee. Comparison with Elizabeth Bishop’s “Faustina, or Rock Roses”

I’ve just reread a couple of Coetzee novels – Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace – and his memoir Boyhood. I admired Waiting for the Barbarians as much as ever, but an old reservation re-awoke and  was crystallised by my rereading Elizabeth Bishop’s “Faustina, or Rock Roses” at the same time. Bishop presents the squalor, the pathos, the embarrassingness for a visitor, of the almost total helplessness of the old woman she describes, but she isn’t disgusted … Continue Reading