Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Moose” is ultimately about the human need to be purged and, if possible, cured of selfhood. Self-absorption or narcissism is not only a passing malaise afflicting teenagers. Older people regard themselves in the mirror of their memories; they often run the risk of becoming trapped in despair or self-pity. Hence, the need to forget one’s obsessions and delusions is a pressing one.

The moose miraculously appears in Bishop’s poem to offer the passengers of the bus, the narrator included, a remedy for their solipsism. Curiosity is stirred in them, and a sweet, joyful sensation supervenes. The author invests her wildlife messenger with an otherworldly or religious awesomeness. The female moose becomes for the nonce Mother Nature—grand, fearless, and unselfconscious. Both like a church and like a house, the moose cow is a prehistoric reminder that humans are not stranded in this world, that there are dignified creatures that seem to be freer and more self-sufficient than humans are, and that human lives are richer because they exist. It is this almost mystical sense of fellowship that pervades the last third of Bishop’s poem.

Humans need the moose as a friendly “other” capable of dispelling the anxiety induced by their inability to communicate significantly across the ghetto of the human species. Civilization has ruined nature and has alienated humankind from it. The man-made environment of highways, bridges, and buses cuts...

(The entire section is 592 words.)