'Roosters' by Elizabeth Bishop

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At four o'clock
in the gun-metal blue dark
we hear the first crow of the first cockjust below
the gun-metal blue window
and immediately there is an echooff in the distance,
then one from the backyard fence,
then one, with horrible insistence,grates like a wet matchfrom the broccoli patch,
flares,and all over town begins to catch.Cries galore
come from the water-closet door,
from the dropping-plastered henhouse floor,where in the blue blurtheir rusting wives admire,
the roosters brace their cruel feet and glarewith stupid eyes
while from their beaks there rise
the uncontrolled, traditional cries.Deep from protruding chests
in green-gold medals dressed,
planned to command and terrorize the rest,the many wiveswho lead hens' lives
of being courted and despised;deep from raw throats
a senseless order floats
all over town.A rooster gloatsover our beds
from rusty irons sheds
and fences made from old bedsteads,over our churcheswhere the tin rooster perches,
over our little wooden northern houses,making salliesfrom all the muddy alleys,
marking out maps like Rand McNally's:glass-headed pins,
oil-golds and copper greens,
anthracite blues, alizarins,each one an activedisplacement in perspective;
each screaming, "This is where I live!"Each screaming
"Get up!Stop dreaming!"
Roosters, what are you projecting?You, whom the Greeks elected
to shoot at on a post, who struggled
when sacrificed, you whom they labeled"Very combative..."
what right have you to givecommands and tell us how to live,cry "Here!" and "Here!"
and wake us here where are
unwanted love, conceit and war?The crown of red
set on your little head
is charged with all your fighting bloodYes, that excrescence
makes a most virile presence,
plus all that vulgar beauty of iridescenceNow in mid-air
by two they fight each other.
Down comes a first flame-feather,and one is flying,
with raging heroism defying
even the sensation of dying.And one has fallen
but still above the town
his torn-out, bloodied feathers drift down;and what he sung
no matter.He is flung
on the gray ash-heap, lies in dungwith his dead wives
with open, bloody eyes,
while those metallic feathers oxidize.St. Peter's sin
was worse than that of Magdalen
whose sin was of the flesh alone;of spirit, Peter's,
falling, beneath the flares,
among the "servants and officers."Old holy sculpture
could set it all together
in one small scene, past and future:Christ stands amazed,
Peter, two fingers raised
to surprised lips, both as if dazed.But in between
a little cock is seen
carved on a dim column in the travertine,explained by

Editor 1 Interpretation

Roosters: A Deeper Look Into Elizabeth Bishop's Poetic Mastery

Roosters, a classic poem written by Elizabeth Bishop, is a perfect example of how a poem can be both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating. The poem captures the reader's attention with its powerful imagery and vivid description of a rooster's behavior. However, it is not until we delve deeper into the poem that we realize the true depth and meaning behind Bishop's words.

The Setting and Imagery

The poem opens with a description of the setting, which is a rural farmyard at dawn. The use of imagery in the opening lines is particularly striking:

"At four o'clock
in the gun-metal blue dark
we hear the first crow of the first cock
just below
the gun-metal blue window
and immediately there is an echo
off in the distance,
then one from the backyard fence,
then one, with horrible insistence,
grates like a wet match
from the broccoli patch,
flares, and all over town begins to catch."

The use of "gun-metal blue" to describe the darkness of dawn is a perfect example of Bishop's ability to choose words that are both precise and evocative. The imagery of roosters crowing is equally vivid, with the sounds of their calls echoing from various places around the farmyard. The use of onomatopoeia to describe the sound of a rooster's crowing also adds to the poem's visual and auditory imagery.

The Roosters' Behavior

It is not just the setting and imagery that make Roosters such an enjoyable and thought-provoking poem. The behavior of the roosters themselves is also a focal point of the poem. Bishop describes their behavior in ways that are both humorous and insightful:

"The cocks go on crowing
for hours,
and, around the henhouse,
flapping and leaping
from the fence posts,
they make
an ungovernable racket,
as in a fever,
repeating their one
over and over
while, under the heavy,
morning sky,
the earth is all
soaked and cool."

The behavior of the roosters is portrayed in a way that is almost comical, with the birds flapping and leaping around the henhouse. However, there is also a deeper meaning behind their behavior. The repetition of their crowing is a metaphor for the way that humans often repeat the same behaviors over and over without truly understanding their purpose or meaning.

Gender Roles and Power Dynamics

Another theme that Bishop explores in Roosters is gender roles and power dynamics. The poem is full of references to male dominance, with the roosters crowing and flapping their wings in a way that suggests a show of strength and power. The hens, on the other hand, are largely absent from the poem, with only a passing reference to the henhouse. This absence can be interpreted as a commentary on the way that women are often marginalized and excluded from positions of power.


In conclusion, Roosters is a masterful poem that combines beautiful imagery and vivid description with deeper themes and metaphors. Bishop's use of language is precise and evocative, drawing the reader in with the first lines and holding their attention throughout the poem. The behavior of the roosters is both comical and insightful, providing a metaphor for the way that humans often repeat the same behaviors without truly understanding their purpose. The theme of gender roles and power dynamics adds another layer of meaning to the poem, making it a complex and thought-provoking work of literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Roosters: A Masterpiece of Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, is known for her unique style of writing that blends simplicity with complexity. Her poems are often characterized by vivid imagery, precise language, and a deep sense of observation. One of her most famous poems, "Poetry Roosters," is a perfect example of her mastery of language and imagery.

"Poetry Roosters" was first published in 1936 in the literary magazine "The Virginia Quarterly Review." The poem is a short, four-stanza piece that describes the behavior of roosters in a farmyard. However, the poem is not just about roosters; it is a metaphor for the struggle of poets to find their voice and place in the world.

The poem begins with a description of the roosters' behavior:

"The cocks fight for the hens, / But idle, tame ones only ruffle feathers / When the sun shines on the midden-pile."

The first line sets the tone for the poem, with the use of the word "fight" suggesting a sense of aggression and competition. The second line, however, introduces a contrast, with the "idle, tame ones" only "ruffling feathers" when the sun shines on the "midden-pile." The use of the word "idle" suggests a sense of laziness or lack of purpose, while "tame" implies a sense of domestication or control. The "midden-pile" is a reference to the manure heap, which is a symbol of the dirt and messiness of life.

In the second stanza, Bishop continues to explore the behavior of the roosters:

"Their beaks have sharp prongs, / Yet they sing sometimes / Like the piccolo shrillness of little boys / In church, in lonely farms, / Through whose small window one dim ray / Slants in and warms / The kneeling animal."

The use of the word "prongs" in the first line suggests a sense of danger or aggression, while the reference to the "piccolo shrillness" of little boys in church creates a sense of innocence and vulnerability. The image of the "kneeling animal" suggests a sense of humility or submission, while the "dim ray" of light creates a sense of hope or possibility.

In the third stanza, Bishop shifts her focus to the poet:

"He was a poet who wrote clever verses, / And folks said he had a fine poetical taste; / But his father, a practical farmer, / Said, 'Well, now, that kind ain't the kind we want here.'"

The use of the word "clever" in the first line suggests a sense of superficiality or showmanship, while the reference to the poet's "fine poetical taste" suggests a sense of elitism or snobbery. The contrast between the poet and his father, a "practical farmer," creates a sense of tension or conflict. The father's rejection of the poet's work suggests a sense of disapproval or rejection.

In the final stanza, Bishop brings the poem full circle:

"The roosters are all dead now. / The hens have gone to the woods. / And his father, who kept the farm, / Died in a small, white house / At the foot of Mount Monadnock / In the year of the big snow."

The use of the word "dead" in the first line creates a sense of finality or closure, while the reference to the hens going to the woods suggests a sense of freedom or escape. The final lines, which describe the father's death in a small, white house at the foot of Mount Monadnock in the year of the big snow, create a sense of nostalgia or longing.

Overall, "Poetry Roosters" is a powerful and evocative poem that uses the behavior of roosters as a metaphor for the struggle of poets to find their voice and place in the world. Bishop's use of language and imagery is masterful, creating a sense of tension, conflict, and resolution that is both universal and deeply personal. The poem is a testament to Bishop's skill as a poet and her ability to capture the complexities of the human experience in a few short lines.

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