Sandra Barry tours us through the Elizabeth Bishop House, Great Village, Nova Scotia “For some reason or other I always felt that the parlor belonged to me. Although close upon the village street, so that your face, as you looked through the square window panes, was on a level with and only a few feet […]
To hold an object with an intensity of gaze that would reveal it, both as itself and yet more than itself, becomes a sacred act and a sacred art–embodying the mysteries– in the work of Elizabeth Bishop. In her poem, “The Moose”, she writes with an impersonal, distancing effect that so precisely articulates the natural world that it moves into dream, opening new dimensions of perception.
Bishop begins with a long, mesmerizing evocation of Nova Scotia, the land “of fish and bread and tea,/home of the long tides”, with a sinuous line that moves from stanza to stanza without a complete break, rising and falling like the tide itself to capture the feel of travelling through the late afternoon.
The music of quiet end rhymes breathes like a sigh, as of a distant, infinitely patient watcher moving with the snail’s pace of the bus that “journeys west . . .down hollows, up rises” along the south shore. We are drawn into a trance of seeing the landscape move past the bus windows as “the fog,/shifting, salty, thin,/comes closing in.” Everything is washed with it, “the sweet peas cling/to their wet white string/on the whitewashed fences;/bumblebees creep/inside the foxgloves,/and evening commences.”
(How Poems Work, February 2005)
… In the poem, “12 O’Clock News”, Bishop looks at our ability to feel alienated from the world around us, even when that world is occupied by familiar objects.
Each object on the left and each description on the right works in interplay between object and image to create metaphor. The objects from her desk are metaphors for the descriptions that go with them, but the descriptions are also metaphors for the objects, for the wider world, the mass media and the writer herself. Bishop builds from the light (i.e. her gooseneck lamp) and works outward to show all the objects that are illuminated and what they are capable of being.
The poem can be read as a commentary on the mass media and how it portrays foreign landscapes. During the early part of the Iraqi war the grey-green surveillance footage depicted an alien world in a way that could only heighten the viewer’s sense that Iraq is different and its people “in the dark”….