Elizabeth Bishop

(8 February 1911 – 6 October 1979 / Worcester, Massachusetts)

A Prodigal - Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
the pigs' eyes followed him, a cheerful stare--
even to the sow that always ate her young--
till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
(he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
And then he thought he almost might endure
his exile yet another year or more.

But evenings the first star came to warn.
The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
to shut the cows and horses in the barn
beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
safe and companionable as in the Ark.
The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
The lantern--like the sun, going away--
laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
he felt the bats' uncertain staggering flight,
his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
touching him. But it took him a long time
finally to make up his mind to go home.


Comments about A Prodigal by Elizabeth Bishop

  • Susan Williams (12/18/2015 2:23:00 PM)


    Finding light in the most shadowy life- a pig farmer. Extraordinary insight and wisdom to be able to discover such beauty in unlikely places and unassuming souls (Report) Reply

    10 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • (8/9/2013 10:06:00 PM)


    A great self-portrait (Report) Reply

  • (8/9/2013 10:03:00 PM)


    one of the twentieth century's great voices (Report) Reply

  • (7/23/2013 11:25:00 AM)


    The thing is, the clunkedy lines work - and that's what counts (Report) Reply

  • (2/7/2013 10:34:00 AM)


    Wonderful, vivid description, but clunkedy lines here and there... (Report) Reply

  • Niki Nicholas Nkuna (7/6/2012 2:07:00 AM)


    Great story telling poet (Report) Reply

Read all 6 comments »



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Read poems about / on: sometimes, star, hair, light, red, home, dark, sun, warning, horse, work



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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