Saturday, April 30, 2011

"The World Is A Mist. And Then The World Is Minute And Vast And Clear."

A. S. J. Tessimond's suggestion in "One Almost Might" that we attend to the present moment reminded me of a poem by Elizabeth Bishop.  The poem is about "a student of Blake" whose text is:  "To see a World in a Grain of Sand" (from "Auguries of Innocence"). 


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 focussed; 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, Questions of Travel (1965).

Bishop's use of the word "minute" in line 14 may echo (although I do not wish to get too carried away with this sort of thing) Blake's recurrent use of the phrase "Minute Particulars."  Thus:  "He who would do good to another, must do it in Minute Particulars/General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite & flatterer."  Jerusalem, Plate 55, Lines 60-61.  Or:  "He who wishes to see a Vision; a perfect Whole/Must see it in its Minute Particulars."  Jerusalem, Plate 91, Lines 20-21.  It has been suggested that "Minute Particulars" has its source in Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, in which Boswell writes:  "minute particulars are frequently characteristic, and always amusing, when they relate to a distinguished man."  But that is more than enough of that.  Let's return to "Sandpiper."

                                        John Nash, "Norfolk Coast"


From My Easy Chair said...

I always enjoy Bishop. And "finical"--what a wonderful word!

Stephen Pentz said...

From My Easy Chair: thank you for visiting and commenting again. "Finical" is perfect isn't it? I don't think that I have come across it anywhere else.