Subway cars and dragons and Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem The Ballad of the Subway Train was so difficult to track down, I had to capture it here.

It’s a gem.

A rhyming, celestial, origin story of the subway.

Hard to top that.

Long , long ago when God was young,

Earth hadn’t found its place.

Great dragons lived among the moons

And crawled and crept through space.

Ten thousand thousand years they lived,

And climbed the hills of night.

Their eyes were as the whizzing suns;

Their tails, sharp flails of light.

They bunted meteors with their heads

While unseen worlds dropped by;

And scratched their bronzy backs upon

The ridges of the sky.

The aeons came and went and came

And still the dragons stayed;

Until one night they chanced to eat

A swarm of stars new-made.

And when God saw them fully gorged,

Their scaly bellies fed,

His anger made the planets shake

And this is what he said:

“You have been feeding, greedy beasts,

Upon the bright young stars.

For gluttony as deep as yours —

Be changed to subway cars!

“No more for you infinite space,

But in a narrow hole

You shall forever grope your way,

Blind-burrowing like the mole!

So in the earth the dragons crawl

In murky, human roads.

The glory of the heavens once –

They carry human loads.

Creatures that the gorgeous sun

Face to face had seen,

Now are lighted by thin darts

Of limpid red and green.

And when you’re grinding through the dark

Aboard those “devilish cars,”

They really are the dragons who

Licked up the swarm of stars.

Bishop, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters (LOA #180) (Library of America). New York City: Library of America, 2008. ( see pages 183, 184)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: