Elizabeth Bishop

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

Florida - Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

The state with the prettiest name,
the state that floats in brackish water,
held together by mangrave roots
that bear while living oysters in clusters,
and when dead strew white swamps with skeletons,
dotted as if bombarded, with green hummocks
like ancient cannon-balls sprouting grass.
The state full of long S-shaped birds, blue and white,
and unseen hysterical birds who rush up the scale
every time in a tantrum.
Tanagers embarrassed by their flashiness,
and pelicans whose delight it is to clown;
who coast for fun on the strong tidal currents
in and out among the mangrove islands
and stand on the sand-bars drying their damp gold wings
on sun-lit evenings.
Enormous turtles, helpless and mild,
die and leave their barnacled shells on the beaches,
and their large white skulls with round eye-sockets
twice the size of a man's.
The palm trees clatter in the stiff breeze
like the bills of the pelicans. The tropical rain comes down
to freshen the tide-looped strings of fading shells:
Job's Tear, the Chinese Alphabet, the scarce Junonia,
parti-colored pectins and Ladies' Ears,
arranged as on a gray rag of rotted calico,
the buried Indian Princess's skirt;
with these the monotonous, endless, sagging coast-line
is delicately ornamented.

Thirty or more buzzards are drifting down, down, down,
over something they have spotted in the swamp,
in circles like stirred-up flakes of sediment
sinking through water.
Smoke from woods-fires filters fine blue solvents.
On stumps and dead trees the charring is like black velvet.
The mosquitoes
go hunting to the tune of their ferocious obbligatos.
After dark, the fireflies map the heavens in the marsh
until the moon rises.
Cold white, not bright, the moonlight is coarse-meshed,
and the careless, corrupt state is all black specks
too far apart, and ugly whites; the poorest
post-card of itself.
After dark, the pools seem to have slipped away.
The alligator, who has five distinct calls:
friendliness, love, mating, war, and a warning--
whimpers and speaks in the throat
of the Indian Princess.

Comments about Florida by Elizabeth Bishop

  • (2/22/2018 10:53:00 PM)

    Excuse me? Elizabeth Bishop had no family. (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    2 person did not like.
  • Practicing Poetess (2/22/2018 8:41:00 PM)

    So colourful and engaging! (Report) Reply

  • Susan Williams (2/22/2018 7:27:00 PM)

    She doesn't sugar-coat the mixture of loveliness and ugliness that is Florida. I love her bird verses - -who can resist: The state full of long S-shaped birds, blue and white, and unseen hysterical birds who rush up the scale every time in a tantrum.- -] and stand on the sand-bars drying their damp gold wings on sun-lit evenings. (Report) Reply

  • (2/22/2018 5:31:00 PM)

    Wonderful poem voted 10. (Report) Reply

  • (2/22/2018 5:30:00 PM)

    The Indian Princess makes me think of the myth of Pocahontas, in which '' she leaves her tribe and becomes a Christian'', but her skirt is buried in a swamp fulfilled with skeletons and the alligator is a kind of serpent that has a specific call for love and ''speaks'' in her ''throat''. It seems that this princess has no hope. It is more about a dying nature than about a life that grows up from death. The main expression is ''the fireflies map the heavens''. (Report) Reply

  • (2/22/2018 5:29:00 PM)

    There is a contrast between life and death. Seemingly, life grows up from death to disappear in death, after that. Elizabeth Bishop gives beauty a complex meaning. She is a poetess liking the comparison. In her first book of poems, entitled North and South, she compares Key West (where she moved in the early 1930’s) with Boston liking to use the contrast in poetry. (Report) Reply

  • (2/22/2018 5:29:00 PM)

    Elizabeth Bishop’s poem looks like a detailed and meticulous description of this wonderful place belonging to Florida, a place filled with ''S-shaped birds''. There is an enormous contrast between the aspect of the land having mangrove, palm trees, fireflies, pelicans, or buzzards and the aspect of the white swamps having skeletons and dead trees. The shells of the turtles around, on the beaches, make the image be complete. (Report) Reply

  • Nudershada Cabanes (2/22/2018 4:00:00 PM)

    Descriptive poem with rich imagery that brought out and painted the State in its natural beauty. (Report) Reply

  • (2/22/2018 9:15:00 AM)

    Flora and fauna of florid Florida. What is missing here are the Floridians, , a species in itself. You will - perhaps, soon - have a poem on poemhunter about the blessed/cursed/ridiculed/cartooned Floridians... (Report) Reply

  • Sylvia Frances Chan (2/22/2018 2:47:00 AM)

    TWO: From the last stanza I understand an ironic tone concerning that crock problem, but she did that sublimest! Congratulations to her family for this Classic Poem of The Day. My deep respect for this mesmerizing poem. (Report) Reply

  • Sylvia Frances Chan (2/22/2018 2:47:00 AM)

    ONE: I had been here for quite a time and I can tell you, I relive that moment again, my stay in Florida, BUT when I was there, I was constantly thinking....here around me can all of a sudden a crock appear, from this point of view, a sunshine state but a bit eerie. EB created loveliest poem for this Sunshine State. (Report) Reply

  • Bernard F. Asuncion (2/22/2018 2:21:00 AM)

    Such a great write by Elizabeth Bishop👍👍👍 (Report) Reply

  • Edward Kofi Louis (2/22/2018 12:28:00 AM)

    Birds and life! ! Thanks for sharing. (Report) Reply

  • John Hardesty (7/2/2013 2:15:00 PM)

    The last 5 lines, of this poem, was all this poem offered, everything else a waste! (Report) Reply

  • (10/8/2005 9:07:00 AM)

    An expertly penned poem about 'The Sunshine State' where it is summertime most all year long. It is easy to get spoiled here. This great poetess' portrayal of Florida is right on the mark. I would call this a perfect poem. (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: hunting, warning, water, fun, dark, war, together, rain, moon, green, sun, tree, beach, rose

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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