(skip to bottom to see poem)
I realized I haven't posted for a while, but now I'm on my break in San Antonio with some down time.
Last week, my poetry professor showed this image of Elizabeth Bishop and her fellow poet/lover Robert Lowell at the beach. I am definitely charmed by this relationship that lasted on and off for such a large part of their lives. One of my friends was telling me about Words in Air, which is a collection of their writings (over 1,000 pgs of letters). The NYorker published a great article a couple months ago about them and the book. I haven't read much of Lowell's work, but whenever I re-encounter Bishop, I'm always thrown off for a couple days. She just seems to say so much I wish I could but don't know how.
Bishop's poem, "Man-Moth" (inspired by newspaper's misspelling of "mammoth") is about the creative process. It questions if individual artistic pursuits (or the imagination) can honestly survive within a common reality we share. Bishop quietly celebrates the artist's natural difference and his ability to be unlike other men. I love how the artists rides backwards on the train and searches the limits of the world unlike everyone else... he squeezes through the cracks... even though he's never successful. In weird ways, I think both Lowell and Bishop, and many other people who love to create, find common ground in the subject's pursuits. I hope you like it as much as I do.
cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
of a temperature impossible to records in thermometers.
But when the Man-Moth
pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
He think thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
proving the sky quite useless for protection.
He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.
Up the facades,
his shadow dragging like a photographer's cloth behind him
he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
to push his small head through that round clean opening
and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
(Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.
Then he returns
to the pale subway so cement he calls his home. He flits,
he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.
Each night he must
be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
Just as the tier recur beneath his train, these underlie
his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,
for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep
his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.
If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It's all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids
one tear, his only possession, like the bee's sting, slips.
Slyly he palms it, an if you're no paying attention
he'll swallow it. However, if you watch, he'll hand it over,
cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink