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Arrival At Santos

Elizabeth Bishop

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2005-11-11
Added by: Sean Wayman
One of the most impressive achievements of Bishop's poetry is the way that she shows the workings of cognition. Her thoughts do not simply arrive complete in the stanzas of this poem, she shows the mind in the prcoess of perceiving a landscape and adjusting its views as it goes along, correcting itself and registering emotions such as surprise. This gives the poem a sense of discovery and of constant readjustment. The poem's dynamism is in part due to this accurate depiction of the workings of consciousness. In this sense "Arrival of Santos" has both the landscape of Brazil and the poet's own subjectivity as its subject.
This element of self-awareness within the poem is manifested in a variety of forms. One interesting example is the way she contrasts her own aesthetic sensibilities with the sensibility of the world of the docks. Whereas she is drawns to colours and beautiful structures the world of the docks cares little for appearances, it is about work and profits. Her thoroughgoing awareness of the way subjectivity structures the manner in which we view the world is coupled with intense curiousity about the outer world, a combination that is found in many great poets since Wordsworth.
It is also worth mentioning the poem's powerful concluding line. Bishop often ends her poems with poetic 'epiphanies' that are unusual for their modesty of expression and scale. Here the revelation that she is headed for the Amazonian interior is given in an almost offhand way, almost as an afterthought. Yet this succintness of expression works to wonderful effect as the unadorned word 'interior' not only suggests, suddenly and unexpectedly, the great journey ahead but also resonates back through the poem, reminding us that this has been a poem as much about the process of cognition as the object described- in other worlds our 'interior' reality.

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