The Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop:
A Personal Response
In my answer I will be talking about my ideas on the themes, styles, and images in the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. Elizabeth Bishop was born on the 8th of February 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father died when she was eight months old and her mother, in shock, was sent to a mental hospital for five years. They were separated in 1916 until her mother finally died in 1934. She was raised by her grandparents in Nova Scotia. There are four main themes in the poetry of Bishop. These include nature, childhood, domesticity/motherhood, and the resilience of the human spirit. The two poems I will be discussing about in my answer related to the following themes are ‘Sestina’ and ‘The Filling Station’. The two themes I will be discussing about are domesticity and childhood. The first poem I will be discussing on is ‘Sestina’. The theme in ‘Sestina’, which I will be discussing, is childhood and domesticity. In ‘Sestina’ Bishop is looking back at her childhood in a child’s perspective. The use of the third person voice in 'Sestina' blends the poet's adult perspective with the child's. A sestina is a seven stanza poem with 6 lines in every stanza except for the last one, where there are only three. If we look at the last word in every line of the first stanza we realize that house, almanac, stove, grandmother, child, and almanac are used over and over again as the last word of every line, except the last stanza where there are two words in every line. The reason why Elizabeth Bishop titled her poem after the form it was written in was because she wanted the reader to understand the way a child sees. A child rearranges things until it makes sense, the way the words are rearranged over and over again. In stanza five of the child is drawing a picture. The picture is an outlet of the child’s emotion. I think this is a great way of doing so, after all a picture tells a thousand words. The picture the child draws therefore reflects truly what the child dreams of, “a rigid house” and “a man with buttons like tears”. Apparently, this is a complete contrast to the current situation. It is a happy past that she’ll never have again. It is the bitter mirror image of the present and the past of dream and reality. Although, in the last two stanzas the mood of the poem takes a turn for a brighter theme because of the child’s picture “…little moons fall down like trees from between the pages of the almanac into the flower bed…” Personally, I take the image of flowers in the rain as a very interesting one. It resembles the silver lining in every cloud and the light at the end of the road. It’s about restoring hope in the face of affliction. This is clearly shown at the beginning of the last stanza. The verse “time to plant tears, says the almanac” marks the turning point of the poem. It is also at this moment that the child becomes happy, therefore not being completely unhappy. It’s time for the grandmother to bury her tears in the earth and grow hope. The message of the poem is then unveiled: there will be a rainbow after the rain, just as there will always be hope for tomorrow. “The grandmother sings to the marvellous stove and the child draws another inscrutable house”. The grandmother stops crying and starts to sing, the child stops dwelling on the past and starts to draw the future. The almanac in the poem represents the domestic. It's secular and full of information. We have this domestic scene with a stove a grandmother and a child...but then we have tears. The tears tip the poem towards the absurdity. The child can sense the grandmother's tears even though she is trying to hide it. The child expresses this through the picture she drew if a man with buttons like tears,, and by watching the teakettle's small hard tears dance like mad. And in the last stanza where it ends with an "inscrutable house," the last thing that should be inscrutable is her house. But in this case there are...
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