A Miracle for Breakfast by Elizabeth Bishop

At six o’clock we were waiting for coffee,
Waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
That was going to be served from a certain balcony,
—Like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
Steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.

The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee
Would be very hot, seeing that the sun
Was not going to warm us; and that the crumb
Would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.

He stood for a minute alone on the balcony
Looking over our heads toward the river.
A servant handed him the makings of a miracle,
Consisting of one lone cup of coffee
And one roll, which he proceeded to crumb,
His head, so to speak, in the clouds—along with the sun.

Was the man crazy? What under the sun
Was he trying to do, up there on his balcony!
Each man received one rather hard crumb,
Which some flicked scornfully into the river,
And, in a cup, one drop of the coffee.
Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle.

I can tell what I saw next; it was not a miracle.
A beautiful villa stood in the sun
And from its doors came the smell of hot coffee.
In front, a baroque white plaster balcony
Added by birds, who nest along the river,
-I saw it with one eye close to the crumb-

And galleries and marble chambers. My crumb
My mansion, made for me by a miracle,
Through ages, by insects, birds, and the river
Working the stone. Every day, in the sun,
At breakfast time I sit on my balcony
With my feet up, and drink gallons of coffee.

We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee.
A window across the river caught the sun
As if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.

Elizabeth Bishop

Note: A poem about America and human suffering during the Great Depression. It is in the form of a sestina, having six stanzas of six lines followed by an envoy seventh stanza of three lines. The words at the end of each line in the first stanza are used as line endings in the next five. They are also repeated in the envoy. If you let the numbers 1 to 6 take the place of the words at the end of the first stanza, then the pattern in the repeat of these words throughout the poem is as follows:

1 2 3 4 5 6
6 1 5 2 4 3
3 6 4 1 2 5
5 3 2 6 1 4
4 5 1 3 6 2
2 4 6 5 3 1
(6 2) (1 4) (5 3)

About Russell Boyle

Russell Boyle is a mathematics teacher, writer, and poet. His poetry anthologies are titled The Beginning, Footprints and Loneliness. Russell is the author of the Year 7 to 8 Mathematics Short-Answer Tasks, the Year 7 to 10 Mathematics Multiple-Choice Tasks, the Year 9 to 10 Extended-Response Tasks, the solutions to the Year 12 VCAA Mathematics Exams and the Web-Programming For Beginners series of courses. Sample poems and questions may be downloaded from http://russellboyle.com
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1 Response to A Miracle for Breakfast by Elizabeth Bishop

  1. Pingback: A Miracle for Breakfast | Keybored - Random Musings

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