At six o'clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
--like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.
The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
It was so cold we hoped that the coffee
would be very hot, seeing that the sun
was not going to warm us; and that the crumb
would be a loaf each, buttered, by a miracle.
At seven a man stepped out on the balcony.
He stood for a minute alone on the balcony
looking over our heads toward the river.
A servant handed him the makings of a miracle,
consisting of one lone cup of coffee
and one roll, which he proceeded to crumb,
his head, so to speak, in the clouds--along with the sun.
Was the man crazy? What under the sun
was he trying to do, up there on his balcony!
Each man received one rather hard crumb
which some flicked scornfully into the river,
and, in a cup, one drop of the coffee.
Some of us stood around, waiting for the miracle.
I can tell you what I saw next; it was not a miracle.
A beautiful villa stood in the sun
and from its doors came the smell of hot coffee.
In front, a baroque white plaster balcony
added by birds, who nest along the river,
--I saw it with one eye close to the crumb--
and galleries and marble chambers. My crumb
and mansion, made for me by a miracle,
through ages, by insects, birds, and the river
working the stone. Every day, in the sun,
at breakfast time I sit on my balcony
with my feet up, and I drink gallons of coffee.
We licked up the crumb and swallowed the coffee.
A window across the river caught the sun
as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.
I was drawn to this poem again by the title of the poem. Light seems to radiate from the image that just the title conjures.
The naturalness and fluidity of this poem amazes me considering that Bishop had to adhere to a strict poetic form. I didn't even notice the intricate repetition until I had read the poem at least a couple of times because she so skillfully wove it into her writing and seemed completely unhindered by the restraint/requirement.
I did not understand this poem much until I learned an essential piece of information: Bishop wrote this poem during the Great Depression when she witnessed the masses lining up for coffee and crumbs (both one of the five repeated words). It seems that the balcony and the people on the balcony represent the government and how they live their lives. In "A Miracle for Breakfast," it seems that the people on the balcony are the ones getting all the coffee and crumbs--maybe Bishop wrote this poem in order to point this out and to express her disapproval of such a system. I think the sun may represent something that is supposed to always be helpful or should show sympathy for the people waiting in the line but receiving nothing, but moves on. Or, it could, probably more possibly, simply show the passage of time, the passage of the morning.
-Allusion: The miracle that the victims of the Great Depression hope for, alludes to the biblical story in which Jesus fed 5,000 people (some sources say 5,000 men and then in addition their wives and children) with only five loaves (some sources say seven loaves) of bread and two fish.
-Sestina: The style of this poem is a Sestina, which follows the repetition of the initial six end-words of the first stanza through the remaining five six-line stanzas, and ending with a three-line envoi.
The rhyme pattern is:
(envoi) ECA or ACE (Bishop does AEC... this must be another version)
-Extended Metaphor: Literally, the poem is about people at a river lining up and waiting to receive coffee and crumbs of bread, waiting for a miracle in which they can receive more than enough food and drink gallons of coffee, but the speaker's true focus are the people lined up for food during the Great Depression.