Essay

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To hold an object with an intensity of gaze that would reveal it, both as itself and yet more than itself, becomes a sacred act and a sacred art–embodying the mysteries– in the work of Elizabeth Bishop. In her poem, “The Moose”, she writes with an impersonal, distancing effect that so precisely articulates the natural world that it moves into dream, opening new dimensions of perception.
Bishop begins with a long, mesmerizing evocation of Nova Scotia, the land “of fish and bread and tea,/home of the long tides”, with a sinuous line that moves from stanza to stanza without a complete break, rising and falling like the tide itself to capture the feel of travelling through the late afternoon.
The music of quiet end rhymes breathes like a sigh, as of a distant, infinitely patient watcher moving with the snail’s pace of the bus that “journeys west . . .down hollows, up rises” along the south shore. We are drawn into a trance of seeing the landscape move past the bus windows as “the fog,/shifting, salty, thin,/comes closing in.” Everything is washed with it, “the sweet peas cling/to their wet white string/on the whitewashed fences;/bumblebees creep/inside the foxgloves,/and evening commences.”

To hold an object with an intensity of gaze that would reveal it, both as itself and yet more than itself, becomes a sacred act and a sacred art–embodying the mysteries– in the work of Elizabeth Bishop. In her poem, “The Moose”, she writes with an impersonal, distancing effect that so precisely articulates the natural world that it moves into dream, opening new dimensions of perception.
Bishop begins with a long, mesmerizing evocation of Nova Scotia, the land “of fish and bread and tea,/home of the long tides”, with a sinuous line that moves from stanza to stanza without a complete break, rising and falling like the tide itself to capture the feel of travelling through the late afternoon.
The music of quiet end rhymes breathes like a sigh, as of a distant, infinitely patient watcher moving with the snail’s pace of the bus that “journeys west . . .down hollows, up rises” along the south shore. We are drawn into a trance of seeing the landscape move past the bus windows as “the fog,/shifting, salty, thin,/comes closing in.” Everything is washed with it, “the sweet peas cling/to their wet white string/on the whitewashed fences;/bumblebees creep/inside the foxgloves,/and evening commences.”


h1. On the Art of Seeing Things
bq. _a reading by Catherine Joyce of “The Moose” by Elizabeth Bishop_
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To hold an object with an intensity of gaze that would reveal it, both as itself and yet more than itself, becomes a sacred act and a sacred art–embodying the mysteries– in the work of Elizabeth Bishop. In her poem, “The Moose”, she writes with an impersonal, distancing effect that so precisely articulates the natural world that it moves into dream, opening new dimensions of perception.
Bishop begins with a long, mesmerizing evocation of Nova Scotia, the land “of fish and bread and tea,/home of the long tides”, with a sinuous line that moves from stanza to stanza without a complete break, rising and falling like the tide itself to capture the feel of travelling through the late afternoon.
The music of quiet end rhymes breathes like a sigh, as of a distant, infinitely patient watcher moving with the snail’s pace of the bus that “journeys west . . .down hollows, up rises” along the south shore. We are drawn into a trance of seeing the landscape move past the bus windows as “the fog,/shifting, salty, thin,/comes closing in.” Everything is washed with it, “the sweet peas cling/to their wet white string/on the whitewashed fences;/bumblebees creep/inside the foxgloves,/and evening commences.”
And so it goes, this disembodied travel, where “A dream divagation/ begins in the night,/a gentle, auditory,/slow hallucination . . .” and voices from Eternity, “Grandparents’ voices” begin to talk of familiar, long forgotten things–who died, who said what, who went bad–finally settling into an ambivalent acceptance with “that peculiar affirmative. “Yes… Life’s like that.”
This impersonal voice, with its compellingly intimate tone, floats somewhere above the sleeping coach as it rides through the night. It becomes the voice of an elusive memory, a communal dream, hearing snatches of the ancestors’ eternal conversation, “the way they talked/in the old featherbed,/peacefully, on and on.” We are lulled into security by this hypnotic, subliminal understanding, “Now, it’s all right now/even to fall asleep/just as on all those nights”–when “Suddenly the bus driver/stops with a jolt,/turns off his lights.”
The colloquial tone marks a shift back into reality, or rather into a still, small place where the ordinary meets the miraculous, “A moose has come out of/the impenetrable wood/and stands there, looms, rather,/in the middle of the road.” The voice locates this happening within the givens of a Nova Scotian experience–a kind of inheritance from living in the “impenetrable wood” where the sight of a moose is both “otherworldly” and yet “homely… safe as houses”.
Bishop records the awed responses of the passengers but resists entering the action, draws no conclusions, only breathes out that communal sense of wonder, “Why, why do we feel/(we all feel) that sweet/sensation of joy?” The question hovers in the still air, as with the same quiet reticence the poem “shifts gears” like the bus, moving on into the night, “For a moment longer,//by craning backward,/the moose can be seen/on the moonlit macadam;/then there’s a dim/smell of moose, an acrid/smell of gasoline”.
Bishops ends where she begins, with the precise evocation of what [_is_], and yet the scent of other possibilities lingers long after the journey.
What is it about this poem that is both consoling and unnerving all at once? Like a bird touching down lightly and skittering away on the wind, an echo perhaps of her rootless, searching spirit that in her lifetime kept her moving from place to place looking for something she might call home, Bishop sees the world clearly but there is an aura of uncertainty, even terror in her apprehension of reality, as if she might be swept away by the flux she perceives beneath the most solid of things. What [_is_]–with its inherent threat of what is not.

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