“…as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.”

From: Elizabeth Bishop – A Miracle for Breakfast (2017), by Megan Marshall:

“Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

While at Vassar, Elizabeth had written to Donald Stanford that she believed a poem ought to convey the effect of being “in action, within itself.” Here she had found a way to do it. Statements, refined and expanded by questions that follow, would become a characteristic means of drawing the reader into her process of thought. As Marianne Moore wrote some years later in an admiring review of Elizabeth’s work, “tentativeness can be more positive than positiveness.”

Had Elizabeth asked herself “The Map”’s questions as long ago as the days in Great Village School, when she’d gazed at Canada’s meandering outline and envied the older children their study of geography: Are those shadows or shallows? Is the land tugging at the sea? An imaginative girl who could not ask what was most on her mind – will my mother come back? – might have let her mind wander this way.”


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