Week 34: Sandpiper, by Elizabeth Bishop

Sandpiper

The roaring alongside he takes for granted
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them,
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
Minute and vast and clear. The tide
Is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focused; he is preoccupied,

Looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray,
Mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

Elizabeth Bishop

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke speaks of ‘that blissful precision at the core of art’, and there is certainly a blissful precision at the core of Elizabeth Bishop’s art: having watched sandpipers on a beach behave in exactly the fashion described I can vouch for the exquisite detail underpinning the metaphysics here.

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