This poem is set in Brazil where Bishop lived for many years. St. John's Day is the winter solstice in Brazil. It was the custom to honour the saint to light fire balloons made of paper and let them drift towards his shrine in the mountains. however, if the balloons fell to the forest before the fire was extinguished they causes a forest fire.
This poem begins with a short narrative that puts the poem in context. it places the poet as an observer within the poem, not as a participant. At this point in the poem the tone is conversational. We are given a detailed description of the fire balloons. They are beautiful and there is a loving reason for their existence, 'like hearts'.
In the third stanza the tone is still admiring of the fire balloons, however the tone changes in the last line of the fifth stanza when we are told about the fire balloons suddenly 'turning dangerous'. We are given a description of how one of them 'splattered like an egg of fire' burning the owls nesting on the cliffs. The image of them 'shrieked up and out of sight' suggests the birds pain and terror. Their nest is also destroyed as are other animals affected.A 'glistening armadillo' is driven out by the 'rose-flecked' fire. The baby rabbit, 'so soft'is now a 'handful of intangible ash / with fixed ignited eyes' . The language is highly emotive as Bishop depicts the effects of the burning balloons on the animals. She is not yet commenting on the horror of what she sees.
However, in the final stanza her indignation breaks through. Up until now the tone has been one of calm detachment. The words of the final stanza are in italics for emphasis. Who is she accusing?
*she may be accusing the paper balloons of being deceptively pretty, unlike the stars they resemble they are dangerous to the animals.
*she may be addressing herself as poet, criticising her depiction of the scene as too beautiful, too obviously poetic, whereas what it really represents is blind panic and pain.
*in rereading the poem in the light of the final stanza, we become aware of the poetic devices she has used _ simile, metaphor, sound effects such as alliteration and rhyme and powerful imagery. the poet's craft has been exposed for what it is, an act of pretty mimicry!
(adapted from LC poetry notes McDermott, Murray ,Slattery Edco 2009)
Man and Nature
Man and Nature