The Great Depression in America resulted to emergence of a class of homeless poor people and rich people in authority. The poor people became dependent for miraculous food support from those in authority. Having experienced the miseries of the great poverty and unemployment due to The Great Depression, Elizabeth Bishop was inspired to write the poem, A Miracle For Breakfast, as a way of expressing the suffering the homeless and the poor met while looking upon the support from the people in authority (Millier 12-19). The poverty was all over to an extent of reaching the lives of every American citizen. The poem narrates the ordeals the homeless face as they gather at the balcony for coffee and bread.
Bishop wrote the poem in an objective, impersonal style with unique form of a sestina. That is, it is composed of six stanzas each composed of six lines and the seventh stanza with three lines only. In the first stanza, the narrator brings out the setting of the poem. She describes that it was six o’clock early in the morning. The sun had begun to show its light to the river. A large crowd of homeless people had gathered under a balcony waiting for help from a higher authority man whom they believed would provide a single crumb of bread and coffee.
In the second stanza, the narrator focuses on the hopes of the people. The crowd had gathered under the balcony early in the morning. The sun was just beginning to light and therefore, it was not warm enough to make them comfortable for the day. It was so cold and the people hoped that the coffee would be very hot to warm them since the sun was not going to warm them. Additionally, they hoped that they would receive entire loaves buttered by a miracle. The narrator says:
“It was so cold and we hoped that the coffee
Would be very hot, seeing that the sun
…Would be a loaf each, buttered by a miracle” (Elizabeth 18).
The third stanza tells us that after waiting for an hour, A man showed up at the balcony. The homeless crowd had gathered under the balcony at seven o’clock waiting for the miracle from the authority. When the man appeared on the balcony, He stood for a minute looking over their heads toward the river. Thereafter, a servant gave him the makings that were to be used for the miracle. Metaphorically, the miracle represented the man’ breakfast that consisted of one loaf of bread and a cup of coffee. The people supposed that the man would be charitable. He crumbles up the loaf of bread assuming that it would feed the crowd. From this perspective, the man could be taken to be an ironic symbol for Christ, who stood on the mountain of Calvary and fed his followers with two loaves of bread. The man cuts the bread into small minuscule portions to give to the crowd instead of multiplying it.
In the fourth stanza, the narrator uses irony to ridicule whatever the man was doing to the homeless people. She goes to a level of asking whether the man is crazy for he did not know the pain he was inflicting to the crowd. Some of the homeless threw their hard crumb of bread they got to the river arguing that it would heighten their hunger rather than satisfy them. The narrator talks about going to a reverie in the fifth stanza. She says that what she saw was not a miracle but rather a beautiful villa that stood in the sun. A smell of hot coffee from the villa was all that she could smell. To her vicinity, she saw a baroque full of birds and nest along the river.
The sixth stanza continues with the description of the villa. The narrator sees a different balcony from what they were subjected to previously. The environment is so friendly that she sits on table and drinks gallon of coffee. She indulges herself with the exaggeration while describing the villa. In contrast, the narrator comes back to reality in the seventh stanza. She continues to eat her crumb of bread and the single drop of coffee. The sun is allover and she realizes that the miracle they have been waiting for appeared to be happening at the wrong balcony. She says:
“we licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee
… as if the miracle were working on the wrong balcony” (Elizabeth 19)
The miracle in the poem is directly referencing the Biblical stories of Jesus proving food to feed thousands of people with only a few loaves of bread. As the American people wait, and wait, they later begin to realize that Jesus won’t be performing any miracles today.
Since the poem was written in sestina form, it repeatedly recycled many of the words throughout. The sestina form of the poem ensures a repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the other five six-line stanzas. Additionally, the poem uses literary devices throughout the seven stanzas. Examples include allusion whereby the miracle that the victims of the Great Depression hope for alludes to the Biblical story where Jesus fed five thousand people with only five loaves. Lastly, extended metaphor whereby people are lining up waiting for a miracle but the narrator’s true focus is on the people waiting for food during a Great Depression.
Bishop, Elizabeth. “A Miracle for Breakfast.” Poem. In The Complete Poems 1979 (1927): 18-19.Print.