Bishop, Elizabeth

United States, (1911-1979)

A Prodigal

  1. The brown enormous odor he lived by
  2. was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
  3. for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
  4. was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
  5. Light-lashed, self-righteous, above moving snouts,
  6. the pigs’ eyes followed him, a cheerful stare —
  7. even to the sow that always ate her young —
  8. till, sickening, he leaned to scratch her head.
  9. But sometimes mornings after drinking bouts
  10. (he hid the pints behind the two-by-fours),
  11. the sunrise glazed the barnyard mud with red
  12. the burning puddles seemed to reassure.
  13. And then he thought he almost might endure
  14. his exile yet another year or more.
  15.  
  16. But evenings the first star came to warn.
  17. The farmer whom he worked for came at dark
  18. to shut the cows and horses in the barn
  19. beneath their overhanging clouds of hay,
  20. with pitchforks, faint forked lightnings, catching light,
  21. safe and companionable as in the Ark.
  22. The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.
  23. The lantern — like the sun, going away —
  24. laid on the mud a pacing aureole.
  25. Carrying a bucket along a slimy board,
  26. he felt the bats’ uncertain staggering flight,
  27. his shuddering insights, beyond his control,
  28. touching him. But it took him a long time
  29. finally to make up his mind to go home.

© estate of Elizabeth Bishop
Poems: North & South — A Cold Spring. Boston, Houghton Mifflin company, 1955. For this volume, Bishop received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1956.

About the Poet

Elizabeth Bishop, (1911-1979) US poet and short story writer, noted for the penetrating and imaginative quality of her verse. Educated at Vassar, Bishop was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1956.

Bishop later traveled widely, finally settling in Brazil for 15 years, returning to the US to teach creative writing at Harvard University and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her short stories appeared in The New Yorker and other magazines and journals. [DES-6/03]

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