Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Elizabeth Bishop: The Sandpiper

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

—Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

So much lovely observation in this poem! (The beach hisses like fat.) But the anthropomorphism of the sandpiper doesn't quite come off. Unlike the human student of Blake searching for the world in a grain of sand, a real sandpiper wouldn't be looking for "something, something, something" - it would know exactly what it was looking for. Humans usually don't. However beautifully imagined, the poem falters on a false projection of the different limitations surrounding animals and humans.