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While refusing the predictable moral stance, "Pink Dog" exposes the cruelties of an age of extreme conformity. The poem, however, lacks Bishop’s characteristic vaguely resigned but painfully aware voice, and affects a tone of humorous indifference. Though she may attempt to echo the less-than-acute political satire of the Brazilian sambas (see translation in CP 263-264) and simultaneously record the trials of the dog and the brutalized narrator, she relies on a series of tropes of the grotesque that engender neither nor interest. Surely she would recognize that the speaker of this poem is as much a victim of a cruel age as the dog. Lacking the sting of political narrative, Bishop's critique appears naive, not shrewd. The light-verse end rhymes of the tercets of "Pink Dog," rather than intensifying and unifying the poem, render it comical and tasteless. Perhaps a difficulty with this poem stems from its strange voice. Though the voice of "Manuelzinho" was not Bishop's, the attendant spirit's voice was. "Pink Dog" lacks the strong sense of purpose found in even the weaker of the earlier exile pieces. As so often, Randall Jarrell most effectively describes what most have come to expect from Bishop's world, and in so doing reveals the sullied vision of this poem:

She is so morally attractive in poems like "The Fish" or "Roosters" because she understands so well that the wickedness and confusion of the age can explain and extenuate other people's wickedness and confusion, but not for you. your own; that morality, for the individual, is usually a small, personal, statistical, but heartbreaking or heartwarming affair of omissions and commissions the greatest of which will seem infinitesimal, ludicrously beneath notice, to those who govern, rationalize, and deplore.

The lack of that moral attractiveness mars "Pink Dog," but the poem does remind the reader how convincingly that moral purpose occurs in her best work, like "Crusoe." 


from Elizabeth Bishop: The Restraints of Language. Copyright © 1993 by Oxford UP