ELIZABETH BISHOP. T. S. Eliot once said that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. I feel that this is true of Bishop’s poetry. Elizabeth Bishop is unlike any of the other poets I have studied.
Her poetry is deeply emotional and confessional and many of her sources of inspiration are quite unusual. However, there is no doubt that she is a talented poet and I really enjoyed studying her poetry. Bishop experienced great loss during her life. This grief is evident throughout her poetry. “First Death in Nova Scotia” is a poignant recollection of a painful childhood memory.Bishop uses creative child-like imagery to depict the over whelming sadness surrounding the death of the poet’s young cousin.
Bishop takes the disturbing image of a white coffin and compares it to a “little frosted cake”, an image that the child Bishop can relate to. Similarly in this poem the simplicity of the language and the use of broad vowel sounds “cold, cold parlor” suggest an unhappy childhood. “Sestina” is also a very grief ridden poem. An obvious feature of this poem is the repetition of the word “tears” in every verse.
This repetition keeps the pain of loss in my mind as I read the poem. The over-whelming sadness Bishop felt as a child is well communicated in the line “the teacup full of dark brown tears”. This memorable metaphor shows me the full extent of her grief and I can understand why it took her so long to come to terms with it. By the end of the poem I feel that the poet is ready to “plant tears” and put the pains of the past behind her.
Unfortunately this metaphor had a much more sinister meaning as the childhood angst she suffered from losing her parents grew and dominated much of her lie.Bishop raises many questions in her poetry. The question of home is often discussed in Bishop’s poetry. During her life Bishop never experienced what a real home was like and I feel this absence is greatly reflected in her poem “Questions of Travel”. This absence is most apparent in the line, “Should we have stayed at home? /Wherever that may be”. The complexity of questions of travel comes from the fact the question of where home is, is debatable and because Bishop herself could not answer this question there is no resolution at the end.
In “Sestina”, the child draws n idyllic “rigid house/and a winding pathway”. This is a very poignant moment as Bishop is expressing a desire for something she never had. We see from her poetry that Elizabeth Bishop is a very observant person. This is evident in the magnificent imagery of her poetry. In “First death in Nova Scotia” the opening image of a “stuffed loon”, that Arthur’s father shot, creates an uneasy atmosphere at the beginning of the poem. In contrast to this, the image of a “tiny lily” brings a peaceful ending to this poignant childhood memory.
This sense of serenity is also evident in the spectacular imagery of “Questions of Travel”. Bishop shows us the beauty of the world in this spell binding poem, “the pressure of so many clouds on the mountain tops/make them spill over the sides in soft slow motion”. I really liked this image and I feel it brilliantly conveys Bishops view of the natural world. However, I find it strange that although these wonderful sights she saw on her travels inspired her artistic side she is debating whether the need for travel is a sign of artistic failure.I do not think this is true as Bishop admits that to not have seen the exotic image of trees “gesturing like noble pantomimists, robed in pink” would have been a pity. Certainly having seen these aspects of nature contributes greatly to her creativity as a poet.
Likewise the captivating imagery in “The Fish” allows the reader to be drawn in to the poem. Her imagery appeals to our sense of touch and sight. The fish is compared to “ancient wallpaper” coated in vivid colours of “brown” and complete with patterns. The image of “frightening gills/fresh and crisp with blood” greatly appeals to our sense of touch. In The Filling Station”, the detailed, almost photographic description of the “oil permeated” “little filling station” gives way to an interesting viewpoint. The “oil soaked” imagery at the start of the poem suggests an unhappy environment.
Suddenly, in the final lines of the poem the description of an “embroidered doily” becomes symbolic of the fact that someone loves us all. Bishop’s style is unlike that of any other poet I have studied. Her approach is very unusual, yet she has managed to produce a striking and well-crafted body of poetry.An interesting feature o her style is the various structures she puts on her poems. Both “The Fish” and “First Death in Nova Scotia” have a very logical, narrative structure.
“First Death in Nova Scotia” is straight forward and she frequently makes use of repetition in order to approximate the idiom of a young child. In “The Fish” the structure echoes the human voice speaking telling this exciting story. My favourite of her poetic structures is “Sestina”-six unrhymed stanzas of six lines and a seventh stanza (envoy) of three lines.I really admire the skill she displays in writing with this structure, which gave control to what could have gone out of control i. e.
her emotions. The rigidity and limitations of this are well manipulated to produce one of the most magnificent poems I have ever read. The tone of voice in Bishops’ poetry is fresh and gives character to her poems. Many of her poems are narratives and begin by setting the scene for the story, “September rain falls on the house…” I like this narrative because it gives an exciting beginning to the poem.I also like this form because there is always s a lesson to be learnt at the end of the poem. In “Filling Station” the epiphany at the end is that ~”somebody loves us all”.
The condescending voice from the beginning of the poem acknowledges that the role of maternal affection even has a role in this dirty environment. The use of sibilance “several quick and saucy and greasy sons assist” gives a light-hearted tone to the poem. One of the most notable aspects of Bishops’ is her attention to detail, which allows her to see life in a new light.She concentrates on the most minute details that would seem in significant to others. In “The Fish” she takes time to describe the five old pieces of fish-line” stuck in the fishes lip.
Analysing these details allows us, the reader to understand the personality of the fish. I can see how much Bishop loved to look into the heart of things, to gain a better understanding of them; she never took things at face value. I can understand why she “let the fish go” Bishop also displays an amazing sense of mystery in her language.I can really sense the uneasy atmosphere in “Sestina” as the grandmother is “laughing and talking to hide the tears”.
Bishop’s skill as a poet is so great that even though the mother in filling station is never directly referred to I can really sense her strong presence “somebody waters the plant”. She is always probing, analysing and posing questions trying to find resolution. In “Questions of Travel” she presents many questions about what causes our desire to travel. ” Where should we be today? ” However she leaves many of this question s unanswered, allowing the reader to make up their own mind.My favourite poem is “Questions of Travel” I like this poem for its use of interesting similes and beautiful imagery.
My favourite image is “the mountains look like the hull of capsized ships, slim hung and barnacled”. This is a perfect simile describing the magnificent scene. It is clear that Bishop explore many different themes in her poetry. Her excellent style and effective imagery make her one of my favourite poets on my Leaving Cert.
course. Bishop once said “I simply try to see things afresh”. I think this view was greatly expressed in her poetry.