Last Updated 17 Jun 2020

Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry

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Elizabeth Bishop poses interesting questions delivered by means of a unique style. Do you agree? Focus on themes and stylistic features. In my opinion, Elizabeth Bishop has a unique style of asking interesting questions. Bishop invites us along on the journey with her. She does this by her “painterly eye” which she has been praised for. In her poems she takes the ordinary and turns it into the extraordinary. As a reader, I wonder why she goes into so much detail. There is a story behind each of her poems.

Her poems “First Death in Nova Scotia” and “In the Waiting Room” are about childhood experiences. She uses great detail in her poems and we feel like we are apart of it. This can be clearly seen in Bishop’s poem “The Fish”. “The Fish” is an example of where Bishop turns something so plain into the extraordinary. She takes fishing and turns it into a seventy-six-line poem. This poem recalls a time when Bishop went fish in a rented boat. Bishop makes a clear statement in the opening line of the poem, “I caught a tremendous fish”.

The adjective tremendous is very effective, I feel. In the first four lines, Bishop stated how she caught a huge fish and stared at it beside her boat. She didn’t haul the fish into her boat. I question why she didn’t bring it straight on board. Bishop’s delight in catching the fish soon gives way to an emotional involvement with the fish. She compares his eyes to her own and she notes that the irises are “backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil”. The image is emphasized by assonance and alliteration. It was a big personal achievement to catch the huge fish.

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Bishop began to enjoy her triumph. It was a big moment for her. She imagined that her feeling of victory filled up the rented boat. Meanwhile, the big fish was still partly in the water. Then she did something unusual. She released the fish she had caught: ‘And I let the fish go’. I wonder why she had mercy on the fish and decided to let it go. “Filling Station” is another clear example of Bishop turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. In this poem Bishop is writing about a family petrol station. The voice in the poem is that of an outsider.

The compound words “oil-soaked” and “oil-permeated” give us a clear vision of this petrol station. I wonder why Bishop is there in the first place. We become fascinated with the place. In verse two, the speaker sees the family. The image of everything covered in oil is continued. Alliteration is used to describe the sons, “several quick and saucy and greasy sons assist”, this suggests they have an oily appearance. The speaker begins to wonder if anyone lives here, “Do they live in the station? ”. Bishop looks for and finds evidence of the female touch in verses four and five.

We begin to see that there is beauty and love in the most unlikely places. In this male-dominated world, there is care to attention and detail with the mention of “daisy stitch”. In the final verse the repetition of “somebody” highlights the importance of the mother. The poem ends with the assurance that everybody is loved and worthy of love. Bishop recalls a childhood experience in her poem “In the Waiting Room”. This poem is similar to “First Death in Nova Scotia” as both have a theme of childhood innocence in them”.

Perhaps the most immediately striking feature of Bishop's work is its child narrator describing the seemingly innocuous event of waiting at the dentist's office while her aunt is in the patient's room. In this setting, the memory revolves around the narrator reading a National Geographic magazine. Bishop writes in uncomplicated, declarative language like "It was winter. It got dark / early. " that mirrors her age at the time. The poem takes an interesting direction as the child-speaker sees herself as a young woman: “What took me / completely by surprise / was that it was me: / my voice, in my mouth”.

Aunt Consuelo’s cry becomes the speaker’s own cry. The woman and the girl merge into one in a surreal leap of the imagination “I – we – were falling, falling”. This poem makes us question what it means to be a woman. In “First Death in Nova Scotia” Bishop presents an extraordinarily vivid memory of a disturbing personal experience. It is winter in Nova Scotia. The dead child has been laid out in a “cold, cold parlour”. As in “In the Waiting Room” the voice in this poem is that of a child-speaker.

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Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry. (2018, Oct 20). Retrieved from

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