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

  • alex byrne (4/29/2020 9:31:00 AM)

    i know this is probably a stud question but hat is the them of this poem in your opinion and please reply quickly(Report)Reply

    0 person liked.
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  • Adam o dinn (2/5/2020 6:39:00 AM)

    Oooooh saaaoirse saoirse saoirse saoirse saoirse(Report)Reply

    Saoirse(2/5/2020 6:45:00 AM)

    Im going to block you

    3 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Susan WilliamsSusan 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

    Kevin(5/12/2018 7:33:00 PM)

    I'm afraid he's not a pig farmer. He's the prodigal son of the Bible (hence the title) , who has found himself sleeping secretly among the pigs since he has spent all his money and has nowhere else to turn.

    27 person liked.
    5 person did not like.
  • Michael Morgan (8/9/2013 10:06:00 PM)

    A great self-portrait(Report)Reply

    7 person liked.
    16 person did not like.
  • Michael Morgan (8/9/2013 10:03:00 PM)

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

    5 person liked.
    14 person did not like.
  • Allan Lindsay (7/23/2013 11:25:00 AM)

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

    22 person liked.
    14 person did not like.
  • A M Clark (2/7/2013 10:34:00 AM)

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

    12 person liked.
    16 person did not like.
  • Niki Nicholas NkunaNiki Nicholas Nkuna (7/6/2012 2:07:00 AM)

    Great story telling poet(Report)Reply

    10 person liked.
    19 person did not like.
Read all 10 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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