Questions of Travel
by Elizabeth Bishop
Questions of Travel Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes. (1-5)
The poem begins on a note of fear. There are too many waterfalls! Too many streams that move too quickly! Ahhh! The speaker is overwhelmed by the speed of the rushing water, and the sheer amount of it. But is nature really threatening, or is it all in her head?
—For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be. (6-9)
The speaker pictures the streams as tearstains. Evil tearstains that will become scary waterfalls as they flow downhill. Once again nature is a threat. But it's also something to ponder. Here she considers the effects of time on nature. She's seeing the world one way, but if she came back in a few decades, this place might look quite different. So when she travels, she's only getting the briefest glimpse of a fleeting scene.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled. (10-12)
She imagines that if it keeps raining, and the streams keep filling up, soon the world will be submerged in water. Even the mountains will be covered. What's with the sinister depiction of nature here? Maybe she doesn't like how nature keeps changing the landscape. Those constant changes make it impossible to feel like she has ever really seen a place. After all, if it looks totally different in the future, is it really the same place?