Because she could find no one else to paint a picture of the old family place where she and her sisters lived. . .she attended an adult education class in Montpelier. In one evening Bessie Drennan learned everything she would need to accomplish her goals. . .
The Vermont Folklife Center Newsletter

Bessie, you’ve made space dizzy
with your perfected technique for snow:
white spatters and a dry brush
feathering everything in the world

seem to make the firmament fly.
Four roads converge on the heart of town,
this knot of white and yellow houses
angling off kilter, their astigmatic windows

almost all in rows. Lucky the skater
threading the yellow tavern’s quilt-sized pond,
the yellow dogs who punctuate the village
where our occupations are chasing

and being chaste, sleighing and sledding
and snowshoeing from house to house
in our conical, flamelike hats.
Even the barns are sliding in snow,

though the birches are all golden
and one maple blazes without being consumed.
Is it from a hill nearby we’re watching,
or somewhere in the sky? Could we be flying

on slick runners down into the village?
Is that mare with the elegant legs
truly the size of a house,
and is this the store where everyone bought

those pointed hats, the snowshoes that angle
in contradictory directions?
Isn’t that Rin Tin Tin, bigtongued
and bounding and in two places at once?

Down there in the world’s corner two children
steal away onto the frozen pond,
carrying their toboggan. Even the weathervanes
–bounding fish, a sailing stag–look happy.

The houses are swaying, Bessie,
and nothing is grounded in shadow,
set loose by weather and art
from gravity’s constraints.

And though I think this man is falling,
is it anything but joyous,
the arc his red scarf
transcribes in the air?

Analysis, meaning and summary of Mark Doty's poem To Bessie Drennan

1 Comment

  1. Edgar Hix says:

    This is a poem that could have been snotty. When I started reading it, that’s what I immediately expected, cringing at the thought and promising myself I only had to read a few verses to be sure before bounding to more promising poetic venues.

    It’s not snotty. It’s actually a quite gentle piece that sees, for me at least, the possibility that Ms. Drennan did learn all she needed to know to paint it, not because she learned to make the dry snowflakes but because she learned to go ahead and paint what she sees with her mind’s eye. Where does she see it from? Who cares. It’s there: her beloved. Are those things so big? so small? so full of light and devoid of shadow? Of course they are. They are Bessie Drennan’s world given to you.

    About the only thing I’d change would be the title. I think “From Bessie Drennan” would be better. But whatever, it’s a nice piece.

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