The Prodigal

The Prodigal – Bishop


  • This poem addresses many of the issues that Bishop had to deal with through her life with the main two being addiction and a sense of place or belonging.
  • Bishop uses the Bible story of the Prodigal son.
  • This looks at how low someone can sink in society as a result of addiction.


  • We open with the poor conditions of the man and how low he has sunk as a result of his actions ‘brown enormous odor’, ‘breathing and thick hair’. The strength of imagery is intended for us to feel these issues.
  • Lines three and four show us how deep in filth this man is.
  • Lines five and six show how the man is nearly dehumanised with the pigs nearly accepting him as one of their own ‘a cheerful stare’. This is enhanced further by ‘leaned to scratch her head’, as there is friendly /companionable element to this relationship.
  • Lines nine to fourteen: In the mornings the situation does not seem as bad to the man as it is view through a cloud of alcohol. The hiding of the drinking shows how addiction has left him isolated from society. In his current situation the reality of his life is not understood by him and he feels he may be able to continue this way.


Stanza Two

  • The description of the farmer, lines fifteen to twenty, shows the extent of isolation that can result from addiction as there is no communication between the pair and the man is left in the dark with the animals.
  • Lines twenty one to three look at light leaving and possibly the man hitting the depth of his addiction.
  • Line twenty four to seven can be a metaphor for the man’s life. He has ‘staggering flight’, moving without any purpose in life.
  • In the end the man has become aware of his situation and has decided to change things.

Points to note:

  • Bishop may be looking at her own battle with addiction.
  • Poem shows the reality of suffering from addiction.
  • The Prodigal is isolated from home and can represent Bishops own search for belonging.

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