“The Weed” by Elizabeth Bishop

It’s Imbolc or Brigid’s Day and Brigid was, among so many other things–saint or goddess, depending on who you ask–a patron of poets.  I love poetry so very much!  My future sister-in-law just finished a master’s degree in English Lit and for her thesis studied Elizabeth Bishop.  So I have been reading Bishop of late.  I am tickled that Bishop translated a bunch of Octavio Paz, of whom I am a big fan.  In fact, last year at this time I posted an excerpt from his seminal work, “Sunstone.”


“The Weed”

by Elizabeth Bishop


I dreamed that dead, and meditating,

I lay upon a grave, or bed,

(at least, some cold and close-built bower).

In the cold heart, its final thought

stood frozen, drawn immense and clear,

stiff and idle as I was there;

and we remained unchanged together

for a year, a minute, an hour.

Suddenly there was a motion,

as startling, there, to every sense

as an explosion. Then it dropped

to insistent, cautious creeping

in the region of the heart,

prodding me from desperate sleep.

I raised my head. A slight young weed

had pushed up through the heart and its

green head was nodding on the breast.

(All this was in the dark.)

It grew an inch like a blade of grass;

next, one leaf shot out of its side

a twisting, waving flag, and then

two leaves moved like a semaphore.

The stem grew thick.  The nervous roots

reached to each side; the graceful head

changed its position mysteriously,

since there was neither sun nor moon

to catch its young attention.

The rooted heart began to change

(not beat) and then it split apart

and from it broke a flood of water.

Two rivers glanced off from the sides,

one to the right, one to the left,

two rushing, half-clear streams,

(the ribs made of them two cascades)

which assuredly, smooth as glass,

went off through the fine black grains of earth.

The weed was almost swept away;

it struggled with its leaves,

lifting them fringed with heavy drops.

A few drops fell upon my face

and in my eyes, so I could see

(or, in that black place, thought I saw)

that each drop contained a light,

a small, illuminated scene;

the weed-deflected stream was made

itself of racing images.

(As if a river should carry all

the scenes that it had once reflected

shut in its waters, and not floating

on momentary surfaces.)

The weed stood in the severed heart.

“What are you doing there?” I asked.

It lifted its head all dripping wet

(with my own thoughts?)

and answered then: “I grow,” it said,

“but to divide your heart again.”


From Poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011, p. 22-23.  Originally published in Bishop’s first collection, North & South, 1946.