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Elizabeth Bishop (Элизабет Бишоп)


Giant Snail


The rain has stopped. The waterfall will roar like that all 
night. I have come out to take a walk and feed. My body--foot,
that is--is wet and cold and covered with sharp gravel. It is
white, the size of a dinner plate. I have set myself a goal, a 
certain rock, but it may well be dawn before I get there. 
Although I move ghostlike and my floating edges barely graze 
the ground, I am heavy, heavy, heavy. My white muscles are 
already tired. I give the impression of mysterious ease, but it is 
only with the greatest effort of my will that I can rise above the 
smallest stones and sticks. And I must not let myself be dis-
tracted by those rough spears of grass. Don’t touch them. Draw 
back. Withdrawal is always best. 
    The rain has stopped. The waterfall makes such a noise! (And
what if I fall over it?) The mountains of black rock give off such 
clouds of steam! Shiny streamers are hanging down their sides. 
When this occurs, we have a saying that the Snail Gods have 
come down in haste. I could never descend such steep escarp-
ments, much less dream of climbing them. 
    That toad was too big, too, like me. His eyes beseeched my 
love. Our proportions horrify our neighbors. 
    Rest a minute; relax. Flattened to the ground, my body is like 
a pallid, decomposing leaf. What’s that tapping on my shell? 
Nothing. Let’s go on. 
    My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from 
front to back, the wake of a ship, wax-white water, or a slowly 
melting floe. I am cold, cold, cold as ice. My blind, white bull’s 
head was a Cretan scare-head; degenerate, my four horns that 
can’t attack. The sides of my mouth are now my hands. They 
press the earth and suck it hard. Ah, but I know my shell is 
beautiful, and high, and glazed, and shining. I know it well, 
although I have not seen it. Its curled white lip is of the finest 
enamel. Inside, it is as smooth as silk, and I, I fill it to perfection. 
    My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark. I leave a lovely 
opalescent ribbon: I know this. 
    But O! I am too big. I feel it. Pity me. 
    If and when I reach the rock, I shall go into a certain crack 
there for the night. The waterfall below will vibrate through 
my shell and body all night long. In that steady pulsing I can 
rest. All night I shall be like a sleeping ear.



Elizabeth Bishop's other poems:
  1. O Breath
  2. The Monument
  3. Cirque D’Hiver
  4. Visits to St. Elizabeths
  5. Songs for a Colored Singer


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