Elizabeth Bishop’s Vague Poem (Vaguely love poem) (Bishop, 2006) is characterized by the rose crystal. The speaker is introduced to the “rose rocks” in the first and second stanza, has it described to her and describes it herself in the third and fourth stanza and recalls the rose rocks and uses its characteristics when describing a naked body in the fourth stanza. In this response paper I will identify the rose crystal as a metaphor for the naked body. I will also argue that there seems to be a contradiction in the fourth and fifth stanza but that there can be found a counterargument against this observation.
The rose rock is a metaphor for a naked body. In the fourth stanza the speaker describes how she sees the characteristics of a rose in the crystal. In the fifth stanza the speaker uses the characteristics of the rose crystal to describe a naked body. This makes the rose the tenor and the naked body the vehicle.
In the fourth stanza the speaker claims that she wanted to study crystallography at first but she didn’t want to study it anymore since it involved a lot of arithmetic. This statement seems contradictory to the fifth stanza, where the speaker goes into great detail using characteristics of a rose crystal. If she hasn’t studied crystallography, how comes she knows how to describe it so well?
The answer lies in the fact that there can be formulated a schism between the artist and the scientist: One can observe and describe the characteristics of a crystal the way an artist would do it, with a ‘new’ set of eyes – or could indeed map the arrangements of the atoms in a crystal to accumulate knowledge the way a scientist would do it. There is implied a difference between observing to express and observing to acquire knowledge.
There is not only a schism, there is also overlap. Both the artist and the scientist form “unimaginable connections” (line 38) for the consumers of their works. The viewer of the work of the artist may associate the new work he or she is seeing with old (indeed, even new) ideas or feelings just like the reader of the work of the scientist will use his or her new knowledge when navigating life.
By using a metaphor,
Bishop makes clear the connection between a rose (crystal) and the pink, naked
body. The speaker in her poem is furthermore observing as an artist and expresses
this through the same metaphor.
Bishop, Elizabeth. “Vague Poem (Vaguely love poem)”. Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments, edited by Alice Quinn, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2006, p.150.