Elizabeth Bishop was an only child, she was born on February 8, 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Bishop experienced many traumatic moments at a really young age: her father died before she was a year old and her mother suffered mental instability and was permanently committed to an institution when Bishop was only five years old. She was taken by her mother’s parents in Nova Scotia, Canada and never saw her mother again. After some years, her paternal grandparents took charge of her and she moved back to Massachusetts. They sent her to Vassar College where she met Marianne Moore, another poet who became a lifelong friend. They both founded the influential literary journal Con Spirito, which was sometimes compared to the well-stablished Vassar Review.
?Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry is characterized by a deep gaze at the landscapes containing animals and human beings. They are filled with descriptions of her journeys and the sights she saw, especially the iridescent landscape of Nova Scotia and Boston, where she lived her childhood. Although deviating from contemporary confessional writers, Bishop might be highly rankedamong American nature writers because of her attachment to nature. In her poetry nature is not an ornamental background upon which human dramas are played.
Detailed facts of the natural scene or animal themselves often constitute the main texture of Bishop’s poems, while humans would become more like a background scene.?”The Moose” is a poem Bishop wrote after a bus trip from Nova Scotia to Boston. She began thinking about this poem, which is the oldest one in her book “Geography III,” in 1946.
Before she even thought about writing this poem she wrote a letter to her friend Marianne Moore about that famous trip. Bishop described the trip as “A dreadful trip that seemed most convenient at the time.” She first named this poem “Back to Boston”, and it describes an actual road trip, but it turns into a response to romanticism and what she saw as its conflict with life at that moment of her life. It is also believed that it took Bishop about 20 years to finish this poem “The Moose” starts with a kind of panoramic shot.
Then, as in the opening of a movie, we slowly zoom in on an object of attention. In this case, it is the bus, and the people inside the bus. The poem passes from an adult’sobservations of a familiar landscape to the unending ritual, first glimpsed in childhood, of human sorrow and then finally into a narration of joy of whatever lies within the impenetrable woods.
This poem suggests that Bishop is always aware of all the figures and details in the landscape she is looking at. Bishop’s questions abouttravel are kind of answered in this poem, almost imperceptibly into questions of memory and loss. She seems fascinated to the landscape where one can feel the sweep and violence of the surroundings that Bishop is describing in this poem. ?”The Moose” opens on a lyrical note, describing the landscapes and towns of the coast of Nova Scotia where the riders in the bus are traveling. She starts with “narrow provinces” which establishes a geographical anchor. Life’s rhythm in this area is reflected in the local diet “of fish and bread and tea.
” The precise landscape Bishop paints in this poem reflects her obsessive focus on observed detail: a traveler is seen off by “seven relatives and a collie supervises.” She uses something as ordinary as fog to add a richer texture to the landscape rather than obscure it. Despite of the poem’s travel theme, Bishop is clearly in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. The opening phrase “From narrow provinces” finds its verb until the fifth stanza. Only then the narration of the poem truly begins with “A bus journeys west, the windshield flashing pink.
Goodbye to the elm, to the farm, to the dog.” In this stanza Bishop also kind of tell us how the bus looks. The effect is difficult, as Bishop suddenly introduces an ungainly metal machine into what previously had been a rustic scene. After that, we the readers are conscious of being separated from the landscape, moving through it in an artificial environment in which the outside world can be seen from the bus windows just like scenes in a movie: “a woman shaking out a tablecloth after dinner,” “a ship’s lantern shinning red off the coast,” and “a rubber-booted pedestrian.”?The long lines that Bishop uses to start the poem reinforce the sense of movement through the landscape.
When the bus stops to pick up the “lone traveler” in the sixth stanza, it also brings an end to the long sentence that has been unwinding since the start of the poem. The bus “waits patient, while a long traveler gives kisses and embraces to seven relatives and a collie supervises.” As the bus resumes and picks up speed, the lines do too. “Moonlight” indicates that is full night when the bus enters the woods of New Brunswick. Here another significant turn occurs with the landscape becoming “hairy, scratchy, splintery; moonlight and mist caught in them like lamb’s wool on brushes in a pasture.” The New Brunswick woods are wilder than the more human-inhabited world of the previous stanza.
This woods have a clinging, dense, claustrophobic feel.?The atmosphere of the danger outside the bus contrasts sharply with the one inside, where it is cozy, and safe: “the passengers lie back. Snores. Some long sighs. A dreamy divagation begins in the night, a gentle, auditory, slow hallucination.” Right after that, the narrator herself starts to drift off from describing the trip, and Bishop’s syntax becomes incantatory and hypnotic. Her dreamy ear settles on “an old conversation – not concerning us, but recognizable, somewhere, back in the bus: Grandparents’ voices uninterruptedly talking, in Eternity: names being mentioned, things cleared up finally; what he said, what she said, who got pensioned; deaths and sickness, this year he remarried.
She died in childbirth. That was the son lost when the schooner foundered.” The conversation comes to an abrupt end with the appearance of the poem’s titular character in the twenty-second stanza when the moose wanders into the road. “Suddenly the bus stops with a jolt. A moose has come out of the impenetrable wood and stands there, in the middle of the road.
” The domestic dream is broken, as something huge and wild intrudes. Someone assures the passengers that the animal is “Perfectly harmless,” a sentiment Bishop questions by setting off the phrase with quotes and ellipses. I wonder how harmless it would be if one of the passengers steps off the bus for a closer look. The creature provokes a childish reaction in the passengers as, in turn, the moose investigates this intrusion into its world.
The passengers seem to be surprised when this big animal steps into the road. “Some passengers whisper, “Sure are big creatures.” “Look! It’s a she.” The driver’s observation that moose are “Curious creatures” could as easily be applied to the passengers. Bishop, even as she shares some of the giddy excitement, questions the emotions stirred up by the animal. “Why, why do we feel this sweet sensation of joy?” The answer is never given, but for Bishop, it seems to lie in the curious power of nature to transform a rather ordinary moment into a transcendent one.
The creature’s sudden appearance reminds there “civilized humans” that other world they are simultaneously surrounded by and alienated from. For a moment, they inhabit the same ground and are aware of each other’s presence: both unnerved, but curious, and strangely exhilarated.Bishop’s moose is feminized by a gentle voice transferring the idea of “she” to the other passengers. Their assumption that the moose is female further suggests the mammal is a mother by saying “the sweetest sensation of joy.
” They qualify gender based on exterior features, such as: the moose is “antlerless,” which can’t be used to identify gender in a moose because there is a possibility that it is a male that shed its antlers. Bishop also says that the moose is “high as a church”, so when we are reading that stanza we can imagine the moose to be as tall as a church steeple. Male moose are taller than female moose, so it does not make sense that the passengers identify the moose as a female, when we really don’t know for sure. The spell is soon broken by the bus, as the driver starts driving. The narrator is unwilling to leave the scene, looking backward to see the moose “on the moonlit macadam” as the bus moves on. Bishop invokes the scents used to mark territory, the primeval and the mechanical, “Then there’s a dim smell of moose, an acrid smell of gasoline.
” This beautiful moment has passed, but for Elizabeth Bishop those dim and acrid smell lingered powerfully enough to compel the exacting commitment of the memory to paper, even twenty years after the trip actually happened. Critics like Cassandra Laity have associated Elizabeth Bishop’s “The moose” to Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species.” Laity suggests in her article Eco-Geologies of Queer Desire that Bishop wrote her poem through a “Darwinian eye on minute detail instilling the animal’s strange physicality to sudden felt affinity with all humanity and the object world.” (12) which relates to The Future of the Past: The Carboniferous & Ecopoetics by Forrest Gander because Gander says that ecopoetry is meant to “gather the world into some kind of unity” and Charles Darwin wrote “Origin of Species” to help us understand how every specie in the world got where they are today, and also kind of guide us to protect more their environment instead of just invading it because every specie in the world also struggle for survival just like us, and in their habitat resources such as food and water can be affected by our actions. Nature is central in Bishop’s poetry, either as an active element central to the experience of the poem or by making an intrusion into the domestic scene, like “The Moose” and “The Fish”. In “The Moose” she has an encounter with the natural world. It is in these animals that Elizabeth comes closest to discovering an ultimate answer for the struggles she bears in each particular poem. Even though each poem is very different in structure and style, each has similar themes.
In most of her poems there are interactions of some kind between man and the natural world. Bishop describes each creature with a sense of respect and honor. Each creature comes to represent something deeper than itself to her. Through each experience Bishop learns that there are things in life that are bigger than her, yet that doesn’t seem to diminish her worth, rather each experience helps her to grow.
This poem is also a testament to how sacred the home is to someone leaving it behind because as I kept searching for more information about this poem I found out that it wasn’t just a trip. Bishop was actually moving back to Boston, leaving all of her mother’s family behind.Elizabeth Bishop simply appreciates the autonomy of a natural object, which retains its own miracle and mystery. Iris Shu-O Huang says in her article Landscapes, Animals, and Human Beings: Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry and Ecocentrism that Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry “illuminates a dialogic, hierarchical and interactive rather than sterile hierarchical relationship between man and nature.” “The Moose” is a reminder that nature will intrude anywhere it wants to. This animal is enormous, ugly and beautiful at the same time, and it stops the bus. This poem is certainly a tribute to the animal world and to the Maritime Provinces, but it seems to me that the moose could also represent the anarchic nature of artistic inspiration.
More broadly, it is the kind of event which is uncontrollable and which sets more things in motion than are evident at the time. Bishop shows through the imagery of this poem, through her image of the moose, how important it is to provide a place of safety for everyone we care about. As we grow up and learn from our mistakes, we find that we can embrace life for what it is worth. We are able to gain wisdom and dignity through the trials we bear and when we accept life on its own terms, when we learn when to take control and when to let go, and our eyes are free to open up and see the beautiful world that live in.