Elizabeth Bishop

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Elizabeth Bishop, an only child, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her father, a successful builder, died when she was eight months old, Bishop’s mother became mentally ill and was institutionalized in 1916. Effectively orphaned during her very early childhood, she lived with her grandparents on a farm in Great Village, Nova Scotia, a period she also referenced in her writing. This was also where she developed into a first-class fisher woman. Bishop's mother remained in an asylum until her death in 1934, and the two were never reunited. Bishop struggled with her identity mainly due to the fact that she was a lesbian and a writer. Throughout her life she suffered bouts of depression and illness, chronic asthma caused her to have to spend long periods of time in bed. She moves the reader from the external image to the internal image. Her work has a highly visual quality with a painter-like approach. Her use of imagery is striking. She has a photographic eye for detail and many of her poems are self referential. The 4 poems I have studied are “the filling station”, “The fish”, “the prodigal” and “sestina”.

The Filling Station
The theme of this poem is a statement about life. The poet brings to life the ordinary mundane scene of a petrol station and she subtly alludes to the family life that exists there. Her objective is to convey the idea that love exists beneath the grim dirty façade. This is a love that is feminine powerful and only visible when one examines the scene with care. This could be a universal theme that explains the necessity of love to lift grim reality to a higher plane. Bishop's keen eye for detail is evident in this poem “oil soaked, oil permeated to a disturbing all over black translucency”, “father wears a dirty oil soaked monkey suit”. At the end of the poem it is obvious that Bishop has moved from external description to an internal or personal reflection in the line “somebody loves us all”. Bishop uses onomatopoeia to create a...
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