At evening, sitting on this terrace,
When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara
Departs, and the world is taken by surprise ...
When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing
Brown hills surrounding ...
When under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio
A green light enters against stream, flush from the west,
Against the current of obscure Arno ...
Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.
A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.
And you think:
"The swallows are flying so late!"
Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop ...
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.
The swallows are gone.
At a wavering instant the swallows gave way to bats
By the Ponte Vecchio ...
Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp
As the bats swoop overhead!
Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.
Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;
Wings like bits of umbrella.
Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;
And disgustingly upside down.
Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep.
In China the bat is symbol for happiness.
Not for me!
Literary Analysis (Summary)The poem reveals the impression and attitude of the poet towards bat, a nocturnal bird which sees at night but blind during the day. This flying mammal is also known as “Pipistrello” in Italy, which actually means little piper.
D.H Lawrence begins the poem by introducing us to the setting of the poem. The setting is in Italy.
Names of ancient cities and places in Italy like Pisa, Florence, Mountains of Carrara, Ponte Vecchio and River Arno are referred to in the poem. That makes the poem rich in allusion.
The first stanza shows that the time of the poem is on a certain evening. The poet-speaker sits on a terrace looking towards the Ponte Vecchio, an old bridge built in arches over the Arno River in Florence. From that vantage point, the poet imagines the sun rising “from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara”, as opposed to the known fact that the sun rises from the east. The flowers of Florence become tired and dejected having been scorched by the heat of the sun.
Under the arches of the old bridge, Ponte Vecchio, the poet observes “a green light against the stream”, which is the River Arno. Suddenly, he sees “things flying” that evening. They were “swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together”. Swallows are birds that have pointed wings and often deeply forked tail. In “a circle swoop, and a quick parabola”, he observes the acrobatic display of the swallows “under the bridge arches”.
The general belief is that swallows fly late in the night. Then comes the rhetorical question from the poet, “swallow?” This is a deliberate attempt by the poet to compare swallows with bats, a nocturnal bird that reigns only at night. This clearly shows the poet’s disdain for bats.
As the poem progresses, the attention of the poet moves from swallows to bats. The poet is trying to draw out the similarities between the swallow and the bat in a contrast. As the night draws closer, “the swallows give way to bats/ by the Ponte Vecchio”. The poet describes this in military terms as “changing guard”.
To further show his dislike for bats, the poet points to the movement of bats as they “swoop overhead/flying madly”. More absurd description of bats according to the poem are “wildly vindictive”, “wings like bats of umbrella”, they “hang themselvthemselves up like an old rag to sleep”, “disgusting old rags” “and disgustingly upside down”.
Lawrence, undoubtedly, finds bats disgusting and repulsive. But in China, it’s a symbol of happiness and good luck. Also, bat is eaten in China. That gives credence to the proverb that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Others may like bats, but D.H Lawrence asserts absolutely “Not for me!”
With uneven stanzas of 45 lines, the poem is written in simple prose-like form. It makes use of ellipsis which signifies omission.
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