The Moose

By Elizabeth Bishop 1911–1979 Elizabeth Bishop

For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces   
of fish and bread and tea,   
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea   
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam   
depends on if it meets   
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets   
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats’   
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,   
past clapboard farmhouses   
and neat, clapboard churches,   
bleached, ridged as clamshells,   
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,   
pink glancing off of metal,   
brushing the dented flank   
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,   
and waits, patient, while   
a lone traveller gives   
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,   
to the farm, to the dog.   
The bus starts. The light   
grows richer; the fog,   
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals   
form and slide and settle   
in the white hens’ feathers,   
in gray glazed cabbages,   
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string   
on the whitewashed fences;   
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.   
Then the Economies—
Lower, Middle, Upper;   
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth   
out after supper.

A pale flickering. Gone.   
The Tantramar marshes   
and the smell of salt hay.   
An iron bridge trembles   
and a loose plank rattles   
but doesn’t give way.

On the left, a red light   
swims through the dark:   
a ship’s port lantern.   
Two rubber boots show,   
illuminated, solemn.   
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in
with two market bags,   
brisk, freckled, elderly.   
“A grand night. Yes, sir,   
all the way to Boston.”   
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter
the New Brunswick woods,   
hairy, scratchy, splintery;   
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb’s wool   
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.   
Snores. Some long sighs.   
A dreamy divagation   
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination....

In the creakings and noises,   
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, deaths and sicknesses;   
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.   
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray   
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

“Yes ...” that peculiar   
affirmative. “Yes ...”
A sharp, indrawn breath,   
half groan, half acceptance,   
that means “Life’s like that.   
We know it (also death).”

Talking the way they talked   
in the old featherbed,   
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,   
down in the kitchen, the dog   
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it’s all right now   
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.   
—Suddenly the bus driver   
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,   
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus’s hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,   
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man’s voice assures us   
“Perfectly harmless....”

Some of the passengers   
exclaim in whispers,   
childishly, softly,
“Sure are big creatures.”   
“It’s awful plain.”   
“Look! It’s a she!”

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,   
grand, otherworldly.   
Why, why do we feel   
(we all feel) this sweet   
sensation of joy?

“Curious creatures,”
says our quiet driver,   
rolling his r’s.
“Look at that, would you.”   
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,   
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;   
then there’s a dim
smell of moose, an acrid   
smell of gasoline.

Elizabeth Bishop, “The Moose” from The Complete Poems, 1927-1979. Copyright © 1980 by Elizabeth Bishop. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: The Complete Poems 1927-1979 (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1983)

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Poet Elizabeth Bishop 1911–1979

Subjects Travels & Journeys, Activities, Animals, Nature

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza