Treasure Island

Elizabeth Bishop

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

Seascape


This celestial seascape, with white herons got up as angels,
flying high as they want and as far as they want sidewise
in tiers and tiers of immaculate reflections;
the whole region, from the highest heron
down to the weightless mangrove island
with bright green leaves edged neatly with bird-droppings
like illumination in silver,
and down to the suggestively Gothic arches of the mangrove roots
and the beautiful pea-green back-pasture
where occasionally a fish jumps, like a wildflower
in an ornamental spray of spray;
this cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry for a Pope:
it does look like heaven.
But a skeletal lighthouse standing there
in black and white clerical dress,
who lives on his nerves, thinks he knows better.
He thinks that hell rages below his iron feet,
that that is why the shallow water is so warm,
and he knows that heaven is not like this.
Heaven is not like flying or swimming,
but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare
and when it gets dark he will remember something
strongly worded to say on the subject.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Gary Witt (1/11/2008 12:53:00 AM)

    What a remarkable little piece. I admire it very much. I don't possess the 'Final Truth' with regard to this poem, but I believe it does raise certain questions. It clearly presents a complex hierarchy of nature, very similar to the Church's angelic or celestial hierarchy. However, by comparison, the Church-imposed hierarchy seems stilted and artificial. Could the poem possibly be about the disconnection that has occurred between organized religion and the natural (maybe even celestial) beauty of the seascape? Could there perhaps be some irony in the fact that the 'lighthouse' (something intended to illuminate and protect, as we are all sometimes adrift on a roiling ocean) is more interested in perpetuating a discordant view of things than in celebrating the beauty of it all? Is there any evidence at all that this might be an attack on narrowmindedness and dogmatism? Could it even be an attack on the Catholic church?

    Nah. Prolly not. We should prolly just talk about its lyricism, a much safer topic. (Report) Reply

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