The Underlying message in Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina”
Naming a poem after the form it uses may give off the impression of a more technical exercise, rather than a poem that achieves a very moving effect. In Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina”, however, she is able to find a surprising beauty in an otherwise difficult form. Bishop utilizes the rules that are laid out by this challenging form, and manipulates the six repeating words in a way that strengthens the message that she is attempting to portray.
The poem opens up to a cold September rain falling on a house. Immediately, the reader is left with the sense of dreariness, with a feeling that this little house is surrounded by an unseen tension. The fact that Bishop refers to the building as a “house” rather than a “home” implies that this structure is acting as a structure for shelter, more than a comforting place of rest. This careful attention to vocabulary creates a sense of a cold atmosphere, which in turn is strengthened by the grandmother as she reads “jokes from the almanac, laughing and talking to hide her tears” (Bishop). This introduced element of melancholy is not too overwhelming, however, as the reader is eased back into comfort with the presence of a small child. While the grandmother busies herself with some tea, the child playfully focuses on drawing a house. The scene has now shifted to one that the reader may find some comfort and familiarity in. However, the poem is still mixed with the previous feelings of sadness. The contrast between the worried grandmother and the carefree child questions the innocence that we experienced as children. To us, the world may have seemed to be so simple. Without even recognizing it, however, there are always complications that cause pain behind what we can see. This clash between the unknown and seemingly ordinary in the end is what this poem is attempting to achieve. The six words that are repeated throughout the poem seem customary at the start,...
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