Cirque D'HiverWinter_Wonderland_1_1024x768.jpg

Across the floor flits the mechanical toy,
fit for a king of several centuries back.
A little circus horse with real white hair.
His eyes are glossy black.
He bears a little dancer on his back.

She stands upon her toes and turns and turns.
A slanting spray of artificial roses
is stitched across her skirt and tinsel bodice.
Above her head she poses
another spray of artificial roses.

His mane and tail are straight from Chirico.
He has a formal, melancholy soul.
He feels her pink toes dangle toward his back
along the little pole
that pierces both her body and her soul

and goes through his, and reappears below,
under his belly, as a big tin key.
He canters three steps, then he makes a bow,
canters again, bows on one knee,
canters, then clicks and stops, and looks at me.

The dancer, by this time, has turned her back.
He is the more intelligent by far.
Facing each other rather desperately—
his eye is like a star—
we stare and say, "Well, we have come this far."


I think that this may be the first poem of Elizabeth Bishop that I have read that I can actually see a deeper meaning than what is on the surface. With most of her poems what you see is what you get, but this one I can see something else. On the surface, this poem is about nothing more than mechanical toys swirling around on the floor. What I see though is that sometimes, no matter what we do or how hard we twist and turn we still end up going nowhere. I get this all from the last line, “We stare and say, Well, we have come this far.” Or maybe this is nothing more than the boredom of winter (the title in English is Circus of Winter) with nothing more to do than sit and watch mechanical toys.