Burning cold

Elizabeth Bishop

At the Fishhouses


All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,

swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,

element bearable to no mortal,

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.

If you are interested in analysis of this and other poems by Bishop, I strongly recommend a visit to Martha Carlson-Bradley’s pages

2 Comments Add yours

  1. dianajhale says:

    Thanks for this one Sigrun – I did not know her poems before and this one is especially appealing being watery! I have had a look at your link – very interesting and useful as I do not know much about analysing poetry.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Neither do I, but I love pictures – and poetry can be very visual …

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