Large Bad Picture by Elizabeth Bishop

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

Poet: Elizabeth Bishop
Born: 8 February 1911, Massachusetts, USA
American
Died: 6 October 1979, Massachusetts, USA

Elizabeth Bishop was a poet and short-story writer. She is considered one of the finest poets of the 20th century. From 1949 to 1950 she was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. She was awarded the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the 1970 National Book Award and the 1976 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. She died of a cerebral aneurysm in 1979 and is buried in Hope Cemetery, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.

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