At Pleasure Bay Summary
by Robert Pinsky

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At Pleasure Bay Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“At Pleasure Bay” is a place poem, but unlike many other poems by Pinsky, it lacks a formal structure. This gives the reader a more fluid exploration of place and captures the spirit of place through Pleasure Bay’s historical context and landscape.

In the second line of “At Pleasure Bay,” Pinsky employs the catbird as singing “never the same phrase twice.” This line reverberates throughout the poem in various scenes with the catbird at Pleasure Bay and from the music issuing from Price’s Hotel near the landing. A catbird is a small gray bird in the same family as mockingbirds and thrashers. It is known for its irregular succession of notes and its catlike meowing phrase. The catbird may act as the poet of this poem. This is observable when Pinsky, melding and changing the sounds and images of Pleasure Bay, writes of “the catbird filling/ The humid August evening near the inlet/ With borrowed music that he melds and changes.” The contrast of a piano’s music across the river, “the same phrase twice and again,” and the catbird carry the reader through “the same place. But never the same way twice.” This is the outline structure of the poem within which people live and die, boats run whiskey, and cars cross the bridge. That this is Pleasure Bay, one may wonder what is pleasurable about it. Does one choose the catbird’s phrase or the piano as one’s pleasure? Or, one may simply lay down with the spirit of place and become another presence, a part of the spirit at Pleasure Bay.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dietz, Maggie, and Robert Pinsky, eds. An Invitation to Poetry: A New Favorite Poem Project Anthology. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.

Downing, Ben, and Daniel Kunitz. “The Art of Poetry: LXXVI.” Paris Review 144 (Fall, 1997): 180-213.

Pinsky, Robert. Democracy Culture and the Voice of Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Pinsky, Robert. The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems, 1966-1996. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.

Pinsky, Robert. Poetry and the World. New York: Ecco Press, 1988.