One Art – Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master; 

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. 

North Haven – Elizabeth Bishop

In Memoriam: Robert Lowell 
I can make out the rigging of a schooner

a mile off; I can count

the new cones on the spruce. It is so still

the pale bay wears a milky skin; the sky

no clouds except for one long, carded horse¹s tail.
The islands haven’t shifted since last summer,

even if I like to pretend they have–

drifting, in a dreamy sort of way,

a little north, a little south, or sidewise–

and that they¹re free within the blue frontiers of bay.
This month our favorite one is full of flowers:

buttercups, red clover, purple vetch,

hackweed still burning, daisies pied, eyebright,

the fragrant bedstraw’s incandescent stars,

and more, returned, to paint the meadows with delight.
The goldfinches are back, or others like them,

and the white-throated sparrow’s five-note song,

pleading and pleading, brings tears to the eyes.

Nature repeats herself, or almost does:

repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise.
Years ago, you told me it was here

(in 1932?) you first “discovered girls”

and learned to sail, and learned to kiss.

You had “such fun,” you said, that classic summer.

(“Fun”–it always seemed to leave you at a loss…)
You left North Haven, anchored in its rock,

afloat in mystic blue…And now–you’ve left

for good. You can’t derange, or rearrange,

your poems again. (But the sparrows can their song.)

The words won’t change again. Sad friend, you cannot change. 

Manners – Elizabeth Bishop 

My grandfather said to me

as we sat on the wagon seat,

“Be sure to remember to always

speak to everyone you meet.”
We met a stranger on foot.

My grandfather’s whip tapped his hat.

“Good day, sir. Good day. A fine day.”

And I said it and bowed where I sat.
Then we overtook a boy we knew

with his big pet crow on his shoulder.

“Always offer everyone a ride;

don’t forget that when you get older,”
my grandfather said. So Willy

climbed up with us, but the crow

gave a “Caw!” and flew off. I was worried.

How would he know where to go?
But he flew a little way at a time

from fence post to fence post, ahead;

and when Willy whistled he answered.

“A fine bird,” my grandfather said,
“and he’s well brought up. See, he answers

nicely when he’s spoken to.

Man or beast, that’s good manners.

Be sure that you both always do.”
When automobiles went by,

the dust hid the people’s faces,

but we shouted “Good day! Good day!

Fine day!” at the top of our voices.
When we came to Hustler Hill,

he said that the mare was tired, 

so we all got down and walked,

as our good manners required. 

Love Lies Sleeping – Elizabeth Bishop

Earliest morning, switching all the tracks

that cross the sky from cinder star to star,

coupling the ends of streets 

to trains of light.
now draw us into daylight in our beds;

and clear away what presses on the brain:

put out the neon shapes 

that float and swell and glare
down the gray avenue between the eyes

in pinks and yellows, letters and twitching signs.

Hang-over moons, wane, wane!

From the window I see
an immense city, carefully revealed,

made delicate by over-workmanship,

detail upon detail,

cornice upon facade,
reaching up so languidly up into

a weak white sky, it seems to waver there.

(Where it has slowly grown

in skies of water-glass
from fused beads of iron and copper crystals,

the little chemical “garden” in a jar

trembles and stands again,

pale blue, blue-green, and brick.)
The sparrows hurriedly begin their play.

Then, in the West, “Boom!” and a cloud of smoke.

“Boom!” and the exploding ball

of blossom blooms again.
(And all the employees who work in a plants 

where such a sound says “Danger,” or once said “Death,”

turn in their sleep and feel

the short hairs bristling
on backs of necks.) The cloud of smoke moves off.

A shirt is taken of a threadlike clothes-line.

Along the street below

the water-wagon comes
throwing its hissing, snowy fan across

peelings and newspapers. The water dries

light-dry, dark-wet, the pattern

of the cool watermelon.
I hear the day-springs of the morning strike

from stony walls and halls and iron beds,

scattered or grouped cascades, 

alarms for the expected:
queer cupids of all persons getting up,

whose evening meal they will prepare all day,

you will dine well

on his heart, on his, and his,
so send them about your business affectionately,

dragging in the streets their unique loves.

Scourge them with roses only,

be light as helium,
for always to one, or several, morning comes

whose head has fallen over the edge of his bed,

whose face is turned

so that the image of
the city grows down into his open eyes

inverted and distorted. No. I mean

distorted and revealed,

if he sees it at all. 

Little Exercise – Elizabeth Bishop

Think of the storm roaming the sky uneasily

like a dog looking for a place to sleep in,

listen to it growling. 
Think how they must look now, the mangrove keys

lying out there unresponsive to the lightning

in dark, coarse-fibred families, 
where occasionally a heron may undo his head,

shake up his feathers, make an uncertain comment

when the surrounding water shines. 
Think of the boulevard and the little palm trees

all stuck in rows, suddenly revealed

as fistfuls of limp fish-skeletons. 
It is raining there. The boulevard

and its broken sidewalks with weeds in every crack,

are relieved to be wet, the sea to be freshened. 
Now the storm goes away again in a series

of small, badly lit battle-scenes,

each in “Another part of the field.” 
Think of someone sleeping in the bottom of a row-boat

tied to a mangrove root or the pile of a bridge;

think of him as uninjured, barely disturbed. 

Poem – In The Waiting Room – Elizabeth Bishop

In Worcester, Massachusetts, 

I went with Aunt Consuelo 

to keep her dentist’s appointment 

and sat and waited for her 

in the dentist’s waiting room. 

It was winter. It got dark 

early. The waiting room 

was full of grown-up people, 

arctics and overcoats, 

lamps and magazines. 

My aunt was inside 

what seemed like a long time 

and while I waited and read 

the National Geographic 

(I could read) and carefully 

studied the photographs: 

the inside of a volcano, 

black, and full of ashes; 

then it was spilling over 

in rivulets of fire. 

Osa and Martin Johnson 

dressed in riding breeches, 

laced boots, and pith helmets. 

A dead man slung on a pole 

“Long Pig,” the caption said. 

Babies with pointed heads 

wound round and round with string; 

black, naked women with necks 

wound round and round with wire 

like the necks of light bulbs. 

Their breasts were horrifying. 

I read it right straight through. 

I was too shy to stop. 

And then I looked at the cover: 

the yellow margins, the date. 

Suddenly, from inside, 

came an oh! of pain 

–Aunt Consuelo’s voice– 

not very loud or long. 

I wasn’t at all surprised; 

even then I knew she was 

a foolish, timid woman. 

I might have been embarrassed, 

but wasn’t. What took me 

completely by surprise 

was that it was me: 

my voice, in my mouth. 

Without thinking at all 

I was my foolish aunt, 

I–we–were falling, falling, 

our eyes glued to the cover 

of the National Geographic, 

February, 1918. 
I said to myself: three days 

and you’ll be seven years old. 

I was saying it to stop 

the sensation of falling off 

the round, turning world. 

into cold, blue-black space. 

But I felt: you are an I, 

you are an Elizabeth, 

you are one of them. 

Why should you be one, too? 

I scarcely dared to look 

to see what it was I was. 

I gave a sidelong glance 

–I couldn’t look any higher– 

at shadowy gray knees, 

trousers and skirts and boots 

and different pairs of hands 

lying under the lamps. 

I knew that nothing stranger 

had ever happened, that nothing 

stranger could ever happen. 
Why should I be my aunt, 

or me, or anyone? 

What similarities 

boots, hands, the family voice 

I felt in my throat, or even 

the National Geographic 

and those awful hanging breasts 

held us all together 

or made us all just one? 

How I didn’t know any 

word for it how “unlikely”. . . 

How had I come to be here, 

like them, and overhear 

a cry of pain that could have 

got loud and worse but hadn’t? 
The waiting room was bright 

and too hot. It was sliding 

beneath a big black wave, 

another, and another. 
Then I was back in it. 

The War was on. Outside, 

in Worcester, Massachusetts, 

were night and slush and cold, 

and it was still the fifth 

of February, 1918.

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.

Poem – At The Fishhouses -Elizabeth Bishop 

Although it is a cold evening, 

down by one of the fishhouses 

an old man sits netting, 

his net, in the gloaming almost invisible, 

a dark purple-brown, 

and his shuttle worn and polished. 

The air smells so strong of codfish 

it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water. 

The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs 

and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up 

to storerooms in the gables 

for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on. 

All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea, 

swelling slowly as if considering spilling over, 

is opaque, but the silver of the benches, 

the lobster pots, and masts, scattered 

among the wild jagged rocks, 

is of an apparent translucence 

like the small old buildings with an emerald moss 

growing on their shoreward walls. 

The big fish tubs are completely lined 

with layers of beautiful herring scales 

and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered 

with creamy iridescent coats of mail, 

with small iridescent flies crawling on them. 

Up on the little slope behind the houses, 

set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass, 

is an ancient wooden capstan, 

cracked, with two long bleached handles 

and some melancholy stains, like dried blood, 

where the ironwork has rusted. 

The old man accepts a Lucky Strike. 

He was a friend of my grandfather. 

We talk of the decline in the population 

and of codfish and herring 

while he waits for a herring boat to come in. 

There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb. 

He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty, 

from unnumbered fish with that black old knife, 

the blade of which is almost worn away. 
Down at the water’s edge, at the place 

where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp 

descending into the water, thin silver 

tree trunks are laid horizontally 

across the gray stones, down and down 

at intervals of four or five feet. 
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear, 

element bearable to no mortal, 

to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly 

I have seen here evening after evening. 

He was curious about me. He was interested in music; 

like me a believer in total immersion, 

so I used to sing him Baptist hymns. 

I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” 

He stood up in the water and regarded me 

steadily, moving his head a little. 

Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge 

almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug 

as if it were against his better judgment. 

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear, 

the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us, 

the dignified tall firs begin. 

Bluish, associating with their shadows, 

a million Christmas trees stand 

waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended 

above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones. 

I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same, 

slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones, 

icily free above the stones, 

above the stones and then the world. 

If you should dip your hand in, 

your wrist would ache immediately, 

your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn 

as if the water were a transmutation of fire 

that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame. 

If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter, 

then briny, then surely burn your tongue. 

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be: 

dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free, 

drawn from the cold hard mouth 

of the world, derived from the rocky breasts 

forever, flowing and drawn, and since 

our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

Poem – A Summer’s Dream – Elizabeth Bishop

To the sagging wharf 

few ships could come. 

The population numbered 

two giants, an idiot, a dwarf, 
a gentle storekeeper 

asleep behind his counter, 

and our kind landlady— 

the dwarf was her dressmaker. 
The idiot could be beguiled 

by picking blackberries, 

but then threw them away. 

The shrunken seamstress smiled. 
By the sea, lying 

blue as a mackerel, 

our boarding house was streaked 

as though it had been crying. 
Extraordinary geraniums 

crowded the front windows, 

the floors glittered with 

assorted linoleums. 
Every night we listened 

for a horned owl. 

In the horned lamp flame, 

the wallpaper glistened. 
The giant with the stammer 

was the landlady’s son, 

grumbling on the stairs 

over an old grammar. 
He was morose, 

but she was cheerful. 

The bedroom was cold, 

the feather bed close. 
We were awakened in the dark by 

the somnambulist brook 

nearing the sea, 

still dreaming audibly.


Poem – A Miracle For Breakfast – Elizabeth Bishop

At six o’clock we were waiting for coffee, 

waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb 

that was going to be served from a certain balcony 

–like kings of old, or like a miracle. 

It was still dark. One foot of the sun 

steadied itself on a long ripple in the river. 
The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river. 

It was so cold we hoped that the coffee 

would be very hot, seeing that the sun 

was not going to warm us; and that the crumb 

would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle. 

At seven a man stepped out on the balcony. 
He stood for a minute alone on the balcony 

looking over our heads toward the river. 

A servant handed him the makings of a miracle, 

consisting of one lone cup of coffee 

and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb, 

his head, so to speak, in the clouds–along with the sun.
Was the man crazy? What under the sun 

was he trying to do, up there on his balcony! 

Each man received one rather hard crumb, 

which some flicked scornfully into the river, 

and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee. 

Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle. 
I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle. 

A beautiful villa stood in the sun 

and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee. 

In front, a baroque white plaster balcony 

added by birds, who nest along the river, 

–I saw it with one eye close to the crumb– 
and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb 

my mansion, made for me by a miracle, 

through ages, by insects, birds, and the river 

working the stone. Every day, in the sun, 

at breakfast time I sit on my balcony 

with my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee. 
We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee. 

A window across the river caught the sun 

as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.