The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop: Summary and Critical Analysis

Elizabeth Bishop's poem 'The Armadillo' takes a common subject that is a kind of street carnival in the Brazilian city. The poem is marked by ambivalence, because the poet first aestheticizes the carnival; flying of the fire balloons and then she became critical to the act of flying fire balloons which might create massive destruction in jungle life.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911- 1979)

The dramatic beauty of the fire balloons and the vulnerable beauty of the animals are both described with equal power. Therefore throughout the poem the poet is caught between aesthetic saints and an awareness of nature and life.

The description of the act of flying fire balloons and destruction caused by it can be taken as an analogy to “man made wars”. The poem is dedicated to the poet Robert Lowell, who was at the time objecting to Americans bombing in Germany. The poem is against the destruction and the immortality of the war. Painful situation of the armadillo is depicted in the poem; armadillo is extremely slow animal and is defenseless before the terrifying shower of fire. Other animals like owls as well as rabbit are also in dangerous a situation.

In the beginning, Bishop simply describes the St. John’s Day carnival in Rio-in which fire balloons are a tradition. After watching that very carnival she shifts her attention to the effects when the flames release on the forest and on the innocent creatures like an armadillo. She shows how the poor animal armadillo dies when the fire catches it. The final image of the dead armadillo is heart touching. Its fist is actually very strong, but not before the fires that savage human beings throws over it. It means the means of survival and defense is utterly helpless in front of massive and monstrous violence that devilish human beings can make and use over living beings. The animals in the poem driven from their nests by a fallen balloon emerge, frightened and mystified. All of the ancient owls to the baby rabbits become vulnerable in the face of this disaster. Even the ordinary well-protected armadillo is defenseless before the terrifying shower of fire. In the poem, Bishop is creating a sense of horror.

All of the animals; panic and misery can be found in these final lines of the poem, their plights extends subtly to become our own. We human beings also cannot protect ourselves from the equally mysterious and terrible events that shake us. Mainly, Bishops poem points directly to these fire bombings which wrecked the same kind of horrifying destruction on a part of our universe that the fire balloons wreak on the animals.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 9 Nov. 2013,

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