Some writers are so incomparably great that even critics cannot dull them. A recent review by Charles Simic of Elizabeth Bishop's Edgar Allan Poe and The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments provides a perfect example. The more Bishop he quotes, the less you want to read Simic; in the end, the natural reaction is to drop the review where you stand and seek out the reviewed work itself. As a gift for finishing my dissertation, N bought me Bishop's Complete Poems, from which I have copied out the following. This is a wonderful, wonderful poem.
Wading at Wellfleet
In one of the Assyrian wars
a chariot first saw the light
that bore sharp blades around its wheels.
That chariot from Assyria
went rolling down mechanically
to take the warriors by the heels.
A thousand warriors in the sea
could not consider such a war
as that the sea itself contrives
but hasn’t put in action yet.
This morning’s glitterings reveal
the sea is “all a case of knives.”
Lying so close, they catch the sun,
the spokes directed at the shin.
The chariot front is blue and great.
The war rests wholly with the waves:
they try revolving, but the wheels
give way; they will not bear the weight.