Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Short and...

As ever at this time of year, a pre-Christmas workstorm is raging here at NigeCorp. Times like these call for something short and sweet on the blog - or perhaps, in this case, bittersweet... Sonnets certainly don't come much shorter, or more tightly packed, than Elizabeth Bishop's last, which was also the last poem she both started and completed. It was published shortly after her death in 1979.


Caught -- the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed -- the broken
thermometer's mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!

Whether intentionally or not, this poem feels like a summing-up and a leavetaking. The first half is full of images of containment, tension and division, while the second half sings of release, freedom, vibrant colour, happiness, ending on the exclaimed 'gay!' - a hard-won gaiety, but  all the sweeter for that. And Bishop has turned the traditional sonnet division upside down here, breaking at line 6/7 rather than 8/9 - her sonnet is bottom-heavy, weighted in favour of gaiety and release, in the end weightless, flying free.

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