"Florida" by Elizabeth Bishop


The state with the prettiest name,
the state that floats in brackish water,
held together by mangrave roots
that bear while living oysters in clusters,
and when dead strew white swamps with skeletons,
dotted as if bombarded, with green hummocks
like ancient cannon-balls sprouting grass.

The state full of long S-shaped birds, blue and white,
and unseen hysterical birds who rush up the scale
every time in a tantrum.


Tanagers embarrassed by their flashiness,
and pelicans whose delight it is to clown;
who coast for fun on the strong tidal currents
in and out among the mangrove islands
and stand on the sand-bars drying their damp gold wings
on sun-lit evenings.


Enormous turtles, helpless and mild,
die and leave their barnacled shells on the beaches,
and their large white skulls with round eye-sockets
twice the size of a man’s.


The palm trees clatter in the stiff breeze
like the bills of the pelicans. The tropical rain comes down
to freshen the tide-looped strings of fading shells:
Job’s Tear, the Chinese Alphabet, the scarce Junonia,
parti-colored pectins and Ladies’ Ears,
arranged as on a gray rag of rotted calico,
the buried Indian Princess’s skirt;
with these the monotonous, endless, sagging coast-line
is delicately ornamented.


Thirty or more buzzards are drifting down, down, down,
over something they have spotted in the swamp,
in circles like stirred-up flakes of sediment
sinking through water.
Smoke from woods-fires filters fine blue solvents.
On stumps and dead trees the charring is like black velvet.
The mosquitoes
go hunting to the tune of their ferocious obbligatos.


After dark, the fireflies map the heavens in the marsh
until the moon rises.
Cold white, not bright, the moonlight is coarse-meshed,
and the careless, corrupt state is all black specks
too far apart, and ugly whites; the poorest
post-card of itself.
After dark, the pools seem to have slipped away.
The alligator, who has five distinct calls:
friendliness, love, mating, war, and a warning–
whimpers and speaks in the throat
of the Indian Princess.

Elizabeth Bishop

(Even though it was a fairly cold weekend, by Florida standards, it was a lovely getaway. I had a chance to sit on the beach with my camera yesterday and watch the sunset and the surfers, while I was bundled up in my jeans and wool socks. Nothing is as soothing as the crashing surf, the calling birds, the sun slipping into bed…)

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18 thoughts on “"Florida" by Elizabeth Bishop”

  1. Beautiful pictures and poetry 🙂 I lived in Boca Raton, Florida for 7 years. I loved it! PS: I really like your blog. It's lovely. Found you through Rebecca at Lost in Books 🙂

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  2. Hey, I live down here in Florida! That is a lovely poem. Glad to hear you enjoyed your stay in the Sunshine State. Sorry the weather was so chilly…

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  3. Do you have ANY idea how cruel it is to see pictures like these when we are in the midst of yet another 1-3" of snow tonight? Oh, and another 3" tomorrow??You've made me long for the beach! Not that I wasn't longing on my own…I'm glad you had a good weekend and the photos and text are simply beautiful.cjh

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  4. Bellezza – your pictures are absolutely breathtaking. It looks like it was a lovely trip, and I hope it was just what you needed. Glad you're back, though. 🙂

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  5. The Chic Geek, I'm so glad you've found me, visited, and left a comment! Your heels are quite "ooh la la"; someday, I'll join you in red stilletos. Until then, we'll have to join forces in books and enjoying Florida. Lexi, if truth were known, I much prefer cooler to hotter. I can't bear high humidity! But, as my husband points out: Florida in summer is different from Chicago how? At least they have the ocean!CJ, not trying to cause any excess longing here! Soon, soon the winter will be over. Madeleine, I'm sure you can relate if I say that I enjoy Paris even over Florida! Don't you miss Europe some days, just unbearably?!Trish, thanks! I'm glad to be back, too. Although, it was an awfully long day at work catching up with things!Think Pink Dana, I love how you alluded to the poem with the sun rising and the S shaped birds! I'll never be an early morning person, even though when I'm awake I do enjoy it. It's just getting awake that's hard for me.Beverly, you must just love your state!!! I like the birds, but even better to me are the Royal Palms and the crashing waves. Or, finding a whole sand dollar.

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  6. Welcome home, Bellezza! You were missed! Your photographs are gorgeous. I especially like the pelican and the first sunset shot. Beeeeeeeautiful!And, yes, there is nothing like the sound of the ocean, is there? Or the scent of the salty air. Sigh, says this California girl.

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  7. Lesley, I liked the pelican, too, but I'm not so sure about the sunsets…are they supposed to have big orange stripes running vertically down the picture? I think not! I just have a silly little Canon digital camera, really small and not fancy, but I'm glad that you can see the beauty I'm trying to capture. As only a friend could do. (I know so little about California! I was only in San Fransisco once, when I was five! How pathetic is that?!)

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  8. Oh, but that's what I love about that shot — the long vertical stripe of orange. It looks so artistic. Shhhh, just tell everyone that's what you planned to do. ;)Ah, Southern California is a fabulous place to visit. I loved living there until it got too crowded, although the last time I was out (last May), I was very tempted to beg my husband to let us move back. We'd have to live in a cardboard box, mind you! Can't afford to move back once you've left – unless you win the lottery. But I do so miss the ocean, delicious restaurants, warm climate, etc. You should try to go there someday. I recommend Del Mar, La Jolla or anywhere along the coast surrounding San Diego. Skip L.A. Too smoggy!

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