September 7, 2010

In reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Man-Moth, I am struck by the lucid image she provides of a man, bent on reaching into the heavens.  In the end, though, he slips back to earth.  Unaware of what he has lost, he quickly falls back into his old life and fruitless dreams.  I can not help but comparing Bishop’s clear image of the Man-Moth, who “trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb” (16) and after failing “returns / to the pale subways of cement he calls home” (25/26), to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, The Poet, a sweeping indictment of the poets, who have misled him in his attempt to find transcendental meaning in his existence. By laying claim to Emersonion Transcendentalism and adapting it to her own unique style, Bishop provides a strong echo and much more lucid image of Emerson’s description in The Poet. 

A strong parallel can be drawn between the experience of Bishop’s Man-Moth and Emerson’s description of the “ravishment of the intellect by coming nearer the fact … (and) the centrifugal tendency of man, to his passage out into free space, … (which)  help him to escape the custody of that body in which he is pent up” (199).  Of particular note is Emerson’s depiction of his experiences with the false poets;

With what joy I begin to read a poem which I confide in as an inspiration!  And now my chains are to be broken: I shall mount above these clouds, and opaque airs in which I live, – opaque though they seem transparent, – and from the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my relations.  That will reconcile me to life and renovate nature, …  Such is the hope but the fruition is postponed.  Oftener it falls that this winged man, who will carry me into the heaven, whirls me into mists, then leaps and frisks about with me as it were from cloud to cloud … he does not know the way into the heavens, and is merely bent that I should admire his skill to rise, like a fowl or a flying fish, a little way from the ground or the water; but the all-piercing, all feeding and ocular air of heaven that man shall never inhabit.  I tumble down again soon into my old nooks, and lead the life of exaggerations as before, and have lost faith in the possibility of any guide who can lead me thither I would be.                                                   (191-2)


On a lighter note: 

Bishop’s Man-Moth leads Emerson and his reader to new celestial heights.


Works Cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. Man-Moth. The Complete Poems 1927-1979. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984. 14-15.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Poet. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller Selected Works. Ed. John Carlos Rowe. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 186-206.

Skipp, Abi. Wendy Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Photo. Paris: June, 2010. Flickr. 07, Sept., 2010. <>

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

Designed by Tim Sainburg from Brambling Design

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