Features November 2021
Chasing the Man-Moth
On Elizabeth Bishop’s subway creature.
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most disturbing poem in Elizabeth Bishop’s first book, North & South (1946), is “The Man-Moth”—this meek creature, so withdrawn he lives in storm drain and subway tunnel, embodied a peculiar modern loneliness years before David Reisman published The Lonely Crowd.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,
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