Poems haunt long after they are haunted. The most disturbing poem in Elizabeth Bishop’s first book, North & South (1946), is “The Man-Moth”—this meek creature, so withdrawn he lives in storm drain and subway tunnel, embodied a peculiar modern loneliness years before David Reisman published The Lonely Crowd. Was the Man-Moth hybrid or monster? No one appears to notice him except the poet; indeed, the city where he lurks seems unpopulated. His existence, as in a fairy tale, is never questioned; but his wretchedness and thwarted longing answer something in the poet without declaring it—the poem was anti-confessional long before confessional poetry was born. It opens,

          Here, above,

 

New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now