For this edition of Poetry in Conversation we turn our attention to Ms. Bishop’s deeply resonant Geography III, the last collection she published before she died in 1979 at the age of 68. A slim volume — not surprising for one who published sparingly and with great deliberation — it holds some of her signature poems. Her painterly work (after all, she was a painter, too) is elegantly plain-spoken and quietly philosophical, both wry and poignant. We hope you’ll join with us in talking about and reading from this small, rich book, first published in 1976 and still unfolding itself in 2015.
“Five Flights Up”
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep
inquiringly, just once.
Perhaps in his sleep, too, the bird inquires
once or twice, quavering.
Questions—if that is what they are—
answered directly, simply,
by day itself.
Enormous morning, ponderous, meticulous;
gray light streaking each bare branch,
each single twig, along one side,
making another tree, of glassy veins…
The bird still sits there. Now he seems to yawn.
The little black dog runs in his yard.
His owner’s voice arises, stern,
“You ought to be ashamed!”
What has he done?
He bounces cheerfully up and down;
he rushes in circles in the fallen leaves.
Obviously, he has no sense of shame.
He and the bird know everything is answered,
all taken care of,
no need to ask again.
—Yesterday brought to today so lightly!
(A yesterday I find almost impossible to lift.)
— Elizabeth Bishop