“And now each day seems,
Like my own soul, farther and farther off,
Lost in its light as in a dream in which I meant to ask you something.”
Five Flights Up
by Elizabeth Bishop
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).
I enjoy the connections that poets make as inspiration in their work. I like to try and connect those dots between poems. A test of a poet’s prowess among the academic community is often the unique quality of their voice in their work, this idea that poetry has to be constantly evolving. I am not sure that’s possible or even always interesting. Everything is built on the foundation of something, influenced by something. Poetry written with no influences is likely not poetry in my mind, the poet disingenuous in giving credit where credit is due. We all have to start with something, start somewhere. We travel to what we think are unique destinations of the mind, only to find the cairns of past adventurers, awaiting us in literature and art.
Freud is quoted as saying, “Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.”
I thoroughly enjoyed both of these poems. The fact they are connect by one line, “-Yesterday brought to today so lightly,” gives them an interesting push/pull when read back to back. For the time being, my yesterday’s are not as impossible to lift as the uncertainty of my tomorrows. I’ll get more used to this new uncharted territory of worry for our loved ones and the unthinking way we took for granted our good health in the past, but it will take a while. If there is blessing of this pandemic is to make our today’s more mindful and not a thing we take for granted. Be well.
Variations on a line from Elizabeth Bishop’s “Five Flights Up”
by Stanley Plumly