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The Man-Moth

The Man-Moth


by Elizabeth Bishop

Stanza 6 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 41-44

If you catch him,
hold up a flashlight to his eye. It's all dark pupil,
an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
as he stares back, and closes up the eye. Then from the lids

  • If you manage to catch the Man-Moth, the speaker encourages you to shine a light in his eyes so you can see that he has no iris, just a big black pupil, just like a real moth. In fact, moths' eyes are some of the least reflective things found in nature (though their eyes don't have the same structure as a human, but if poets were required to be scientifically accurate then reading poetry would be just as much fun as reading a biology textbook). 
  • He will then close his eye.
  • The "haired horizon" refers to his eyelid, and it's a pretty accurate description since moths are pretty hairy little guys
  • What's that? I can't hear you over all the awesome assonance in these lines (see, we can do it, too.). There's lots more alliteration in the rest of the stanza too. Can you spot the repeating sounds? Check out "Sound Check" for more on that.

Line 45

one tear, his only possession, like the bee's sting, slips.

  • Okay, now things are getting a little weird. Well, weirder. 
  • After shining a light in the Man-Moth's eye, he will produce a single tear. The tear is the only thing that he truly owns because he made it himself. It is the only and the last thing, just like a bee's sting, since many species of bees can only sting a single time, dying soon after.

Lines 46-47

Slyly he palms it, and if you're not paying attention
he'll swallow it. However, if you watch, he'll hand it over,

  • The Man-Moth has moves like a street magician because he can let that tear slip into his hand gracefully, holding it in his palm so we can't see it any more. 
  • If he managed to fool us or if we look away, he'll put it in his mouth and make it disappear by swallowing it. He'll probably pretend it was never there to start with and try to pull a quarter out of our year to distract us too.
  • The Man-Moth's tear is filled with truth, and he doesn't give that up easily. He'd really rather keep it private, especially if the person who caused the tear isn't really very interested. He's only willing to go in depth with someone who really cares.

Line 48

cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.

  • The final line in the poem shines a ray of hope onto everything. 
  • His tear is cool, clean, and pure—so much so that you could drink it, and it would taste like sweet, unspoiled water that's never seen the surface of the earth.
  • Though the Man-Moth has been a little self-possessed, obsessive-compulsive, and neurotic through the bulk of the poem, this last line tells us that, despite it all, he's still extremely competent. When he produces, it is truly a thing of beauty, so putting up with all the quirkiness until he actually accomplishes something is totally worth it.

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