Monday, April 2, 2007

Elizabeth Bishop: The Armadillo

The kids over at my Songwriting for Kids Club are dealing with this beautiful poem for National Poetry Month, and so I thought you might enjoy it too.

The events in "The Armadillo" happen on St. John's Day in Brazil, where Elizabeth Bishop lived for 15 years. Each year on this saint's day, people would celebrate by lighting fire balloons (as shown in the picture). The balloons were outlawed by the 1970s when Bishop wrote her poem because of the number of destructive fires that resulted each year.

I love this poem for its lyricism and its simplicity. I love the way Ms. Bishop allows you to both see and feel lines like "the paper chambers flush and fill with light/that comes and goes, like hearts." With a kind of elegance and grace, with simple, striking images, she leads us through her observation. She doesn't have to write stanzas explaining her emotions...we are right there with her as her awe and wonder are transformed into something surprisingly dark and destructive.

The coolest thing is that there is a recording of Elizabeth Bishop reading the poem that you can listen to on the Academy of American Poets website. I love it when you can hear a poem in the poet's own voice and hear exactly how they imagined the inflections and rhythms when they created the poem.

Click here to listen to and read "The Armadillo" by Elizabeth Bishop.

Learn more about Elizabeth Bishop on

If you're interested in a more technical and detailed analysis of the poem, here's an interesting page from the University of Illinois.

The Complete Poems, 1927-1979