Poem – Large Bad Picture – Elizabeth Bishop

Remembering the Strait of Belle Isle or 

some northerly harbor of Labrador, 

before he became a schoolteacher 

a great-uncle painted a big picture. 
Receding for miles on either side 

into a flushed, still sky 

are overhanging pale blue cliffs 

hundreds of feet high, 
their bases fretted by little arches, 

the entrances to caves 

running in along the level of a bay 

masked by perfect waves. 
On the middle of that quiet floor 

sits a fleet of small black ships, 

square-rigged, sails furled, motionless, 

their spars like burnt match-sticks. 
And high above them, over the tall cliffs’ 

semi-translucent ranks, 

are scribbled hundreds of fine black birds 

hanging in n’s in banks. 
One can hear their crying, crying, 

the only sound there is 

except for occasional sizhine 

as a large aquatic animal breathes. 
In the pink light 

the small red sun goes rolling, rolling, 

round and round and round at the same height 

in perpetual sunset, comprehensive, consoling, 
while the ships consider it. 

Apparently they have reached their destination. 

It would be hard to say what brought them there, 

commerce or contemplation.
 

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