Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Monument” is written in seventy-eight lines of free verse with a few significant breaks for verse paragraphs. The title is important in that it defines the object that is being described and discussed by the poet. The poem is narrated by a knowledgeable and perceptive speaker who describes the monument and tells the naïve reader, an otherwise undefined “you,” how to see it and read it. This speaker asks, “can you see the monument?” with some interest and urgency. It is of prime importance that readers see what is immediately before their eyes, that they understand what it is and what it does.
The word “monument” suggests a memorial or sacred object that holds special significance to a group of people or a nation. The word will acquire other connotations and denotations as the poem proceeds. The monument is made “of wood/ built somewhat like a box.” Immediately, there is a clash between readers’ expectations about the object and the material of which it is made: One expects a monument to be made of marble rather than wood. The poet-speaker then describes its shape and size. It is not stately but seems to be jerry-built “like several boxes in descending sizes/ one above the other.” It does, however, have a form: It has four sides, and four “warped poles” hang from it like “jig-saw work.” The speaker then shifts to the monument’s context. It is “one-third set against/ a sea; two-thirds...
(The entire section is 570 words.)