Florida Poem by Elizabeth Bishop


Rating: 3.2

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.

Faith Elizabeth Brigham 08 October 2005

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.

14 14 Reply
John Hardesty 02 July 2013

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

6 14 Reply
Marieta Maglas 22 February 2018

Wonderful poem voted 10.

3 3 Reply
Nudershada Cabanes 22 February 2018

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

2 4 Reply
Marieta Maglas 22 February 2018

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.

2 4 Reply
jalaylee 15 February 2022

wooooooooooooo so good you are the best

0 0 Reply
44444444444444444444 10 September 2019

What is the main idea or central idea or central theme of this poem

2 0 Reply
Michael Morgan 22 February 2018

Excuse me? Elizabeth Bishop had no family.

1 6 Reply
Practicing Poetess 22 February 2018

So colourful and engaging!

2 5 Reply
Susan Williams 22 February 2018

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.

2 3 Reply
Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop

Worcester, Massachusetts
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