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Cirque D'Hiver

Elizabeth Bishop

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Added by: John
Certainly an intruiging poem; Cirque d'Hiver actually personifies the toys explicitly, rather than simply implying personality through language, as other poems featuring toys or animals often tend to. Consider the fact that these characters even have a 'soul' taking the anthropomorphism one step further, and that this soul is pierced by a pole which binds the two characters; could the poem be about relationships in some way? Notice that the horse is said to be more intelligent than the dancer, and that the horse has 'real' white hair, suggesting the horse is somehow more real than the dancer who carries 'artificial roses'. His soul and character has more depth to it, we could point to the glossy black eyes as an example of this as they suggest depth.
the status pole
Added by: jeremy
clever, clever poem

my interpretation is that this poem serves as the poet's evaluation of her place in the movement toward gender equality.

the way the speaker/poet stares at the horse at the end of the poem and says, "Well, we have come this far," identifies her with the horse.

the dancer represents the traditional role reserved for women before any progress made by the feminist movement. describing the toy as being "fit for a king of several centuries back" makes an allusion to the "medieval" treatment of women's role. the dancer "turns and turns," kinetically mimicing the restirictive roles of mother and wife, and the absence of opportunity to develop oneself and accomplish goals outside the home. the "artificial roses" and "pink toes" represent the way women are often reduced to pretty surfaces with no human complexity.

compared to conventional women, the poet as the horse has real hair and glossy eyes (truth of character and spiritual depth), and is more intelligent. throuth success in writing poetry, and perhaps other achievements not expected of women, the poet has moved beyond the "dancer" level of the feminist movement to the level of the "horse." however, there is still much progress to be made. although she has increased her intelligence and humanity as a woman, she is still oppressed by the "little pole" (cultural mores) and the dancer, the traditional expectations of women which he bears on his back. the "tin key" operates the cultural mechanism, composed of many social components, that still makes the poet obediently behave contrary to her nature, even though she has attained some degree of libertation.

"Well, we have come this far."
Poem makes a lot more sense now
Added by: Lisa G.
I have to say that's a brilliant interpretation. Although the skeptic in me wants to suspect it came from a book, I will quell those suspicions and just enjoy it. Ahh.
Added by: paul
I like the gender role reading. But I see the horse and the dancer as perhaps two facets of the same identity: the beast of burden that is doing the real work behind the scenes while the audience/world watches the pretty show/exterior. Beneath what looks rosy is melancholy.

This duality of reality and fantasy or fašade runs throughout the poem. The Cirque d'Hiver was a very big French tradition (and still is, in a reincarnated form)--winter circuses in general being a source of life in the dreary days of winter. The embroidered flowers give the illusion of life/Spring in the dead Winter.

Look at Chiricos paintings of faceless mannequin-like women to get a great depiction of this empty show of beauty/happiness.

I am also intrigued (pr confused) by the horse's eyes, both black and vacant, yet like a star; by the ambiguity of "we have come this far" (I mean, horsey is nailed down, running in place and getting nowhere, like a frantic cyclist in spin class); and by the pronoun "we" in that same sentence: I think the horse means "My ballerina and I" and NOT "You (the poet) and I."

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