American Poetry
for Students of English Worldwide

..............Jack Kimball.............

Engaging the Senses with ELIZABETH BISHOP

Elizabeth Bishop was born in Canada, grew up in Massachusetts and spent many of her adult years in Brazil, as well as travelling around the world. Throughout her life she wrote poetry about the beautiful places she visited. In many of her poems we can find wonderful examples of how words seem to "think" in pictures and sounds that blend with one another quite naturally. Here is an early poem about the seashore.

The Wave

A shining wave
Fills all the skies.
Bright shadows float
Across the land.
See, crystal clear,
Its helmet rise!
And now the motion
Of a hand,
A tiny quickening
Of the heart,
And it will fall
And nothing more
Can keep the sea and land apart.
How still, how blinding is the light!
Spellbound and golden shines the foam.
Without a gesture
Or a word
It cannot break;
The wing must turn,
And nest again
The radiant bird,
The wave, the wonder, go back home.
We do not move,
We do not flee.
We see it shudder, lightning bright,
And dully double
On the sea.
We are too innocent and wise,
We laugh into each other's eyes.

Match the words from the poem The Wave in "A" with the words in "B" that mean the SAME.

shudder _______
quickening _______
spellbound _______
radiant _______
innocent _______

not dangerous
becoming excited

In reviewing the poem, find the words that mean the OPPOSITE of these:

1) together _______
2) stupid _______
3) bored _______
4) very big _______

Elizabeth Bishop describes a wave as a "floating" creature with a "shining" hat or "helmet." This is a metaphor, a comparison of one object to another. The sea and its waves are like creatures with helmets -- but we, by ourselves, might never have thought of this. The poet did -- and gave us the comparison as a picture-in-words to remember. Can you find other comparisons or metaphors in this poem?

Is the writer interested in the wave?

What words prove this?

Using some of the words in The Wave, or using words that mean the same as words in the poem, describe the sea and the waves.

Is the poem light- or dark-colored? Why?

Can you decide which season of the year the writer is talking about?

Re-read the poem The Wave and write a few notes about some naturally beautiful place, such as a forest, the mountains, or seashore. Be sure to include colors, motions and sounds that will give the appearance and feeling of the place. Use your senses. For example:

Seeing the place -- is it far away or nearby, it is dark or bright?

Touching things in the place -- are they wet, cold, smooth?

Listening to the place -- is it noisy, quiet or musical? How many kinds of sounds are there?

Smelling things in the place -- have they a flowery scent, a scent of the ocean, an aroma of trees?

After you have answered these questions and completed your notes, write a poem that includes as many of these impressions as you wish.

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