Elizabeth Bishop Leaving Certificate Poetry
Elizabeth Bishop v Bishop was born in 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. v When she was only a baby her father died and her mother was so traumatised she was later committed to a mental asylum. v Bishop was sent to live with her grandparents and later her aunt. v She lived for many years in Brazil with her lesbian partner Lota de Macedo, until Lota’s death in 1967. Bishop described this period as the happiest time of her life.
Elizabeth Bishop She wrote slowly and published sparingly but her work was critically acclaimed. She won many prizes and awards until her death in Boston in 1979. Bishop’s unhappy childhood created a sense of loss which remained with her as an adult.
The Fish The poet catches an enormous fish She holds the ‘tremendous’ fish alongside the boat. The hook that she used to catch him is lodged securely – ‘fast’ – in the corner of the fish’s mouth. This is a big fish and the poet is surprised that it put up no resistance when it was caught. ‘He didn’t fight. / He hadn’t fought at all. ’
The fish’s appearance The fish is old and its age makes it worthy of respect. This is clear when the poet describes it as ‘venerable’. The word ‘battered’ implies that the fish has suffered in it’s lifetime. Vivid colours help us to picture the fish: ‘brown’ and ‘darker brown’ skin speckled with lime green and white lines and shapes like ‘roses’.
The Fish Despite the barrier between animal and human, Bishop begins to empathise with the fish: ‘I looked into his eyes’. She describes the eyes with great care, noting that the fish’s eyes are ‘far larger’ than the poet’s but they are ‘shallower, and yellowed. ’ Though the creature does not respond to her, she admires ‘his sullen face/ the mechanism of his jaw’
The Fish It is while she is examining the fish’s jaw that she suddenly notices there are ‘five big hooks’ lodged firmly in the fish’s lip. Attached to the hooks are pieces of line and wire that would have once connected the hooks to the rod. She describes the hooks as ‘weaponlike’ and realises that the fish has struggled many times to escape capture.
The Fish The achievement of the fish in escaping capture becomes like that of a war hero who has endured hardship and is now being honoured. We can picture a battle-scarred general, decorated for bravery, the fish-lines are ‘like medals with their ribbons/frayed and wavering’. She realises she has looking at a fish who has been caught five times but each time has managed to break himself free.
The Fish This knowledge gives the poets a great feeling of ‘victory’. A victory that comes from catching the tremendous fish and understanding what the fish has been through and survived. The colours that surround the poet add to this wonderful sense of victory. Oil at the bottom of the boat ‘had spread a rainbow/around the rusted engine. ’
The Fish For a brief moment, the world around the poet seems beautiful and joyous, full of wonderful colours: ‘everything/was rainbow, rainbow!’ Inspired by the fish’s survival, the poet decides to ‘let the fish go. ’
Similes A simile is a comparison that uses the word ‘like’, ‘as’, or ‘than’. The poem features a number of similes: The shapes on the fish’s skin are ‘like full-blown roses/stained and lost through age. ’ The fish’s flesh is ‘packed in like feathers’. The eyes move ‘like the tipping/of an object toward light’. The lines attached to the fish’s jaw are ‘Like medals with their ribbons/frayed and wavering. ’
Theme The Natural World The poet is fascinated by the fish she has caught; she thinks that it is ‘tremendous’. It is not particularly beautiful; in fact, the poet tells us it is ugly, or ‘homely’. What fascinates the poet the most is just how strange the fish is – how different it is to her. The fish is a creature of the water and the oxygen that the poet breathes naturally is ‘terrible’ to it. When the poet looks into the fish’s eyes, there is no recognition there. They do not return her stare but ‘tip’ away from her. The poet considers the fish’s ‘frightening gills’, and thinks of how they can ‘cut so badly. ’
First Encounter Questions 1. How did the poet feel about her catch in the opening lines? 2. In lines 8 -9 the poet uses three words to describe the fish: she says that he is ‘battered and venerable/ and homely’. What does each word suggest to you about the fish? 3. When the poet looks at the fish’s jaw, she realises that she is not the first person to have attempted to catch this fish. What brings about this realisation? 4. How is the poet’s sense of joy evident in the closing lines of the poem?
A Closer Reading – Questions 1. Were you surprised by the extent of the detail given in the poem? Why do you think the poet decided to give so many details about the fish? 2. Do you think that the poet was always sympathetic to the fish or did you think that her attitude changed throughout the course of the poem? 3. Do you think this poem has anything to say about the way people relate to the natural world?
The Prodigal This poem can be read as an updating of the well known parable from the Gospel of St. Luke. Jesus tells how a son asks for his inheritance from his wealthy farmer. He heads off to a foreign country and squanders all of his money on drink and gambling. Eventually, his funds run out and he has to work in a pigsty in order to survive. For a long time he endures labouring in the filth and dung as he’s too ashamed to return home. Eventually, however, he can take no more and returns home where his father forgives him and welcomes him home with open arms.
The Prodigal Stanza One Bishop dramatises the time before the prodigal returns home rather than the homecoming itself. The prodigal is a voluntary ‘exile’ who would rather sleep in the pigsty than return to where he came from. The poem describes an alcoholic farm worker who works and lives in a pigsty and the poet does not flinch from describing the squalor in which he lives.
The Prodigal The pigsty can only be described as unpleasant. The prodigal lives among the pigs with their ‘brown enormous odor’, ‘ breathing’ and ‘thick hair’. The floor is ‘rotten’ and the walls are covered with ‘glass-smooth dung’ The odour has so overpowered him that he can no longer ‘judge’ it. He is so degraded that he can’t even see how far he has fallen. He lives too close to the animals ‘for him to judge’.
The Prodigal Bishop describes the pigs in an approving way as they offer the prodigal some comfort and companionship. Their eyes follow him with ‘a cheerful stare /even the sow that always ate her young. ’ Such a realistic detail makes us realise how low the prodigal has sunk, especially since he scratches the sow’s head in spite of being sickened at what he sees.
The Prodigal He deceives himself so much that he has almost come to accept his living conditions. He also deceives himself, and others, about his drinking: ‘he hid the pints behind a two-by-four’. It seems he often gets drunk early in the morning and finds beauty in the sunrise and how it is reflected in the mud and puddles of the yard.
The Prodigal The pleasant sight of the sunrise that ‘glazed the barnyard mud with red’ and the ‘burning puddles’ makes him think he can put up with the pigsty for another year, rather than returning home. ‘And then he thought he almost might endure/his exile yet another year or more’. He is not ready to face his problems and change his life.
The Prodigal Stanza Two This stanza describes an evening in the farmyard. The sun is ‘ going away’ and his employer ‘shuts the cows and horses in the barn’ and returns to his farmhouse by the light of a lantern. The image of the lantern light getting smaller as the farmer heads for home, while the prodigal remains in darkness with the pigs, is truly saddening.
The Prodigal The prodigal’s nights seem to be truly miserable. We can imagine that they are filled with guilt and self-loathing caused by his addiction and the fact that he has ended up living in such a dirty environment. He views the ‘first star’ as a warning that the night time, and the horrors it brings, are on the way.
The Prodigal The prodigal’s nights are in contrast to that of the farmer and pigs. The pigs snore contentedly and the farmer returns to the warmth and comfort of his own home. The intense loneliness of the prodigal is also highlighted as the pigs sleep in ‘companionable’ togetherness while the farmer doesn’t say a word to him before retreating to his home.
The Prodigal The prodigal’s moment of truth comes when he comes aware of ‘the bats’ uncertain staggering flight’, which gives him ‘shuddering insights’. He does not want to recognise the truth, but at last, he realises his terrible isolation. The bats terrify him because their blind flight resembles his stumbling through life and his uncertain future. Although he finally accepts the misery of his situation, it is a long time before he can find it in himself to leave the pigsty and return home: ‘it took him a long time/finally to make his mind up to go home’.
The Prodigal - Theme Addiction ‘The Prodigal’ is a moving and honest portrayal of an addict. He suffers from severe alcohol addiction and his problem has brought him to a terrible situation. He spends his days and nights amid the filth and squalor of the pigsty and it seems his nights are racked by guilt and self-loathing.
The Prodigal - Theme Addiction The poem paints a picture of the misery addiction brings but also highlights how addicts take comfort in their way of living. They may be miserable but their way of life is one they are familiar with and understand. The poem emphasises how hard it is for an addict to leave addiction behind, even when he realises the full horror of his situation. It is important to note that there is a strong autobiographical element to this poem as by 1939 Bishop was a fullblown alcoholic.
The Prodigal - Theme Homelessness An important part of the poem is the prodigal’s refusal to return home. He lives and works in misery and we get a sense that he feels he doesn’t really have a home as he is no longer welcome there. The word ‘home’ is the only end-word that doesn’t rhyme suggesting how difficult the idea of home is to the prodigal. Again, this is very similar to Bishop’s circumstances as someone for whom ‘home’ did not really exist. Having lost her parents at a young age and spent years moving from house to house, in Bishop’s eyes the journey home is not an easy one to make.
The Prodigal – Questions 1. Describe, in your own words, the prodigal’s living place. 2. According to Bishop, the smell of the pigsty was ‘too close’ for the prodigal to judge. What do you think she means by this? 3. What sign is there that the prodigal is ashamed of his drinking? 4. The poem says the ‘first star came to warn’. What warning does it give the prodigal? 5. Why do you think the prodigal was reluctant to change his life, leave the pigsty behind and return to his home?
The Prodigal – Detailed Questions 1. Discuss the main themes in this poem. 2. Do you think the poem gives a truthful portrayal of addiction and what a terrible disease it is? Give reasons for your answer. 3. Imagine you are the prodigal. Write three paragraphs in which you describe your life on the farmyard. You may wish to focus on: • Your living conditions • Your duties in the farmyard • Your relationship with the farmer • How you came to live and work there • Your reluctance to go home
The Filling Station In this poem, the poet stands in front of a filling station and takes in what she can see all around her. Everything she sees appears oily and dirty: ‘oil-soaked, oilpermeated’ to the extent that everything has an ‘over-all / black translucency’ or shine. Humorously, she warns herself, or someone else, to be careful of a lighted match, as the place could quickly go up in flames.
The Filling Station Stanza 2 describes the members of the family who own and work in the station, a father and several sons. Like their surroundings, the men are ‘greasy’ but Bishop’s tone is light-hearted when she says they are ‘quite thoroughly dirty’. With typical curiosity about the world around her, Bishop begins to question what she sees.
The Filling Station As unlikely as it seemed at first, she realises that the family do live in the filling station. On the porch there is wicker furniture and a dog who both look as ‘comfy’ and dirty as the rest of the station. Bishops use of the word ‘comfy’ suggests that in spite of the dirt she finds the scene pleasant. It is not a soulless business, it is a family environment.
The Filling Station In the 4 th and 5 th stanza Bishop begins to realise that despite the fact that the place is run by a bunch of greasy men and is utterly filthy, the station has elements of decoration. The plant, the taboret and the doily are all there to make the place pretty. But their presence in such a filthy place, run by men, strikes the poet as very strange, causing her to ask: ‘Why the extraneous plant? / Why the taboret? / Why, oh why, the doily? ’
The Filling Station The doily has been carefully embroidered with flowers and grey stitching. Such a pretty and delicate item is out of keeping with the rest of the place. Although everything is dirty, these are objects that suggest a desire for a more ordered life. Somebody has even arranged the ESSO cans so that they all face the same way.
The Filling Station Bishop answers her own questions in the final stanza. She realises someone cares about this place and has tried to improve it, even if their efforts are pointless. It can hardly have been any of the men. There must be another person, someone not present who bothered to do all these things. The final line suggests that a caring ‘motherly’ figure lies behind these details. Such a person is looking out for us: ‘Someone loves us all. ’
What is the poem about? Optimism and Motherly Love Although ‘The Filling Station’ is quite simply written, it can be interpreted a number of different ways. One reading of the poem is that it shows Bishop’s optimistic view of life, despite her personal problems, especially the lack of a mother in her life. She seems to suggest that a mother’s presence is always felt, even if she is not actually there. The father and the ‘greasy’ sons have had at least some experience of feminine care and affection. It doesn’t matter that they are dirty and unattractive because somebody has loved them.
What is the poem about? Regret Some readers feel that the light-hearted tone of the poem is tinged with regret. After all, the station has been allowed to become so dirty. The mother is nowhere to be seen. Has she gone away or simply given up the battle against the oil and grease? This may be an expression of grief for Bishop’s deprived childhood.
Sound patterns in the poem Bishop makes use of sibilance (repetition of ‘s’ sounds) in the poem – in words such as ‘soaked’, ‘translucency’, ‘saucy’, ‘greasy’ and so on. This has an onomatopoeic effect as it suits the impression of oiliness and grease that she wants to give. The use of alliteration in the words ‘family filling’ and ‘dim doily’ contribute to the harmony of the poem.
The Filling Station Questions 1. What is the speaker’s immediate impression of the filling station? 2. What objects in the station most surprise the speaker? Why do you think she is so surprised to see them in this place? 3. The final stanza refers to the ‘somebody’ who must have been responsible for the presence of the surprising objects. Who do you think this somebody might be?
The Filling Station Detailed Questions 1. Do you think that the speaker respects the fact somebody has bothered to try to make the filling station pretty? Or do you think she feels that such efforts are a waste of time? 2. What do you think is the poem/s message? Give reasons for your answer.
Sestina What is a sestina? The sestina is a form of poem that follows strict rules. It consists of six-line stanzas and a three-line section called an envoi. The sestina employs six ‘end-words’ instead of rhyme. The same six end-words must be used in each stanza but the position of the end-words shifts from stanza to stanza. The envoi must contain all six end-words, three at the end of its lines and three in the middle.
Sestina The poem is set in the kitchen of what might be a farmhouse. A grandmother and granddaughter sit reading an almanac. Almanacs, once extremely popular in rural America, were like diaries with jokes, folk sayings, horoscopes, weather predictions and agricultural advice.
Sestina It seems as if the family have been struck by some terrible tragedy. Though the grandmother laughs at the almanac, she does so only to “hide her tears. ” This great sorrow is “known only to a grandmother”, the child doesn’t seem to comprehend the tragic event and the grandmother hides her tears to shield the child from an awareness of the tragedy.
Sestina “The iron kettle sings on the stove” and the grandmother declares the tea ready. The granddaughter, however, is distracted by the moisture running down the kettle’s sides: “”watching the teakettle’s small hard tears” This perhaps indicates that, in spite of the grandmother’s caution, on some level she is aware that a great sorrow has struck her family, though she may be too young to fully grasp it yet.
Sestina The grandmother clears up after tea and returns the almanac to its hook. At this point the poem becomes bizarre, dream-like and sinister. The almanac starts to fly around the kitchen, like a kite on the end of its string: “Birdlike, the almanac / hovers half open above the child” We are also presented with the strange and haunting image of the grandmother’s teacup being “full of dark brown tears” rather than tea. The stove and the almanac are depicted as having a conversation about the tragedy that has struck the family: “It was to be, says the Marvel Stove. / I know what I know, says the almanac. ”
Sestina The almanac is presented in a sinister light throughout. The grandmother believes the family tragedy was “foretold” by its horoscopes and predictions. There is something conceited about its declaration that “I know what I know” – as if it is proud of the fact that it predicted the family’s loss. There is also something ominous about the way it hovers over the child and grandmother. Tellingly, at this point the grandmother “shivers”
Sestina The granddaughter draws a house with her crayons which she proudly shows to her grandmother. Once again however the almanac is presented in a sinister light. It hovers above the child’s drawing. Little moons fall out of its pages, presumably from its star charts and horoscopes and “fall like tears” into the child’s picture. The almanac declares that it is “Time to plant tears” There is something unsettling about these tears taking root among the flower beds of the girl’s drawing.
THEME: Childhood ‘Sestina’ wonderfully depicts the mentality of childhood. Childhood mentality is artfully portrayed in the depiction of the granddaughter drawing a house with her crayons. She draws in the typically “rigid”, over-deliberate fashion of children. She approaches the task with an innocent and childish dedication, “carefully” sketching a flower bed and showing the picture “proudly” to her grandmother.
THEME: Childhood Throughout the poem there are moments when Bishop skilfully inhabits a child’s point of view. The phrase “clever almanac” has a childish ring to it. Similarly effective is the description of the stove as “marvellous”. To this innocent and childish girl the stove is a wondrous and fascinating object, she therefore confuses the brand name ‘Marvel’ with the word “marvellous”.
THEME: Childhood The poem’s second half is full of strange and bizarre occurrences, however, we get the impression that these weird events are not “real” but merely taking place in the granddaughter’s imagination. She imagines the almanac hovering around the kitchen with a mind of its own and sends a rain of moons into her picture, that her grandmother’s cup contains tea rather than tea and that the stove and the almanac have a brief conversation.
THEME: Childhood The grandmother notices none of these events. She goes about her business as if nothing strange is happening, reinforcing our sense that it is happening inside the child’s imagination. This sense is further reinforced when the almanac “secretly” sows moons into the child’s drawing, somehow unnoticed by the grandmother as she “busies herself about the stove”. The poem then wonderfully captures how a child’s imagination can run riot.
THEME: Moments of Awareness Many of Bishop’s poems are marked by moments of awareness or epiphany, moments when a person suddenly or gradually realises something profound and important about themselves or about the world. It is difficult not to regard ‘Sestina’ in terms of Bishop’s own history. Bishop’s father died when she was only 8 months old and when she was eight years old her mother suffered a mental collapse and was institutionalised. Following these tragic events, she went to live with her maternal grandparents.
THEME: Moments of Awareness The tragedy that has struck the family is “known only to a grandmother”. Yet we get the impression that awareness of this tragedy is slowly dawning on the child. She thinks of “tears” running down the kettle and fill the grandmother’s cup. The drops from the kettle seems to dance “like mad”, perhaps suggesting her mother’s mental breakdown. Furthermore, she imagines the stove and the almanac having a conversation about the tragic events.
THEME: Moments of Awareness We get an impression that the child attempts to shield herself from sorrow by drawing houses. It’s as if she tries to create in her imagination, an ideal house, an alternative world where the tragedy that struck her never happened. The house she draws is described as “rigid”, suggesting it is a tough and solid safe haven. The man in the drawing most likely represents the father she so tragically lost. Yet the fact that his buttons are like “tears” suggests that even in the idealised world of drawing, the child cannot escape the dawning awareness of sorrow.
THEME: Moments of Awareness The child is protected from sorrow by her inability to understand. But this defence will only last for so long. The almanac seems to represent awareness of the tragedy waiting to descend upon the child. It hovers above her in an ominous fashion and “plants tears” in the child’s drawing. We get the impression that tears have also been planted in the child’s life and will soon bear fruit in the form of the terrible sorrow which could overcome her.
Form/Structure The sestina is a notoriously difficult poetic form, one that very few writers have employed successfully. In this poem, however, Bishop displays absolute command of the form, perhaps using its intense difficulty and rigid structure to contain the difficult childhood emotions she is exploring. This sestina’s six end-words are: ‘house’, ‘grandmother’, ‘child’, ‘stove’, ‘almanac’ and ‘tears’
Tone and Atmosphere This poem conjures a melancholy autumnal atmosphere. It is September – summer is over and winter is on its way. The poem is set at evening time when the light is failing and the darkness and cold gather: “She shivers and says she thinks the house feels chilly”. An important part of the poem is its increasingly menacing descriptions of the rain. In the first line we are told the rain is simply “falling” on the house. By line 7, however, the rain “beats” on the house, which suggests violence. In lines 15 and 16 the child reckons the rain must be dancing “like mad” on the roof of the house
Metaphor and Simile There are several interesting similes and metaphors in this poem: o In a fine metaphor, the drops of moisture on the kettle’s side are compared to tears. o In a memorable simile, the buttons on the man in the child’s drawing are compared to tears. o In another simile, the moons falling from the almanac’s pages are compared to tears and we can imagine how the full, half and quarter moons depicted on the almanac’s pages might resemble tears. o In another fine simile, the almanac is compared to a bird: “Birdline, the almanac / hovers half open above the child”. We can imagine the almanac’s half-open pages resembling wings as it hovers about the kitchen.
Personification occurs in lines 15 and 16, where both the rain falling on the roof and the droplets falling on the stove are depicted as dancing.
Sound Effects For the most part, Bishop uses flat, everyday language in this poem. Yet there is a superb piece of word music in lines 15 to 16. There is an onomatopoeic quality to the lines: “small hard tears / dance like mad on the hot black stove” in which we can almost hear the rain rattling on the rooftop. Bishop achieves this unusual effect by using a lot of monosyllabic words, many of which feature hard consonants like ‘d’, ‘t’ and ‘k’.
First Death in Nova Scotia This moving poem dramatizes a child’s first encounter with the reality of death. It was inspired by an episode in Bishop’s youth. Bishop spent the early part of her life in Nova Scotia with her grandparents. The speaker’s young cousin Arthur has died and his body is laid out in the parlour of the house. In the parlour there is also a stuffed loon and a set of chromographs depicting the British royal family.
The speaker’s attention is drawn to the stuffed loon. She emphasises the softness and whiteness of its feathers, how it was “deep and white / cold and caressable”. She compares the table on which it rests in death to the lake on which it rested in life: “his white frozen lake, / the marble-topped table”. She describes how its eyes have been replaced with red glass and to the young speaker these pieces of glass resemble precious stones: “his eyes were red glass / Much to be desired. ”
First Death in Nova Scotia The speaker’s mother tells her to bid her cousin a final farewell: “I was lifted up and given / one lily of the valley / to put in Arthur’s hands”. She emphasises the smallness of Arthur’s body and how pale he is in death: “He was all white / like a doll / that hadn’t been painted yet”.
First Death in Nova Scotia The speaker explains Arthur’s paleness to herself by referring to Jack Frost, a fairy-tale character, who supposedly painted all the maples leaves in Canada their distinctive red colour. She imagines that Jack Frost was also supposed to paint Arthur’s body, bringing colour to it: “Jack Frost had started to paint him”. However, she imagines that he has been interrupted and abandoned the job leaving Arthur “white”, except for his red hair.
First Death in Nova Scotia The speaker also imagines that the royal couple in the chromographs have summoned Arthur to become one of their pageboys: ”to be the smallest page at court”. This could be another childish fantasy concocted by the speaker herself. However, it could also be the kind of gentle lie an adult might tell a child to shield her from the truth about death. Perhaps her mother told her this fantastic story, wanting her to understand that Arthur will not be around anymore, but also wanting to hide the harsher realities of death.
First Death in Nova Scotia At the poem’s conclusion, however, we find the young speaker questioning this fantasy. She seems to realise the absurdity of the stiff, immobile body of Arthur marching off to take up a job at the court of King George: “But how could Arthur go, / clutching his tiny lily, / with his eyes shut up so tight / and the roads deep in snow? ”. Arthur’s body, she seems to realise, is incapable of opening his eyes. How, therefore, could he make it to King George’s court? Furthermore, even if he could see, how could a little boy travel alone through the snowy and icy roads?
THEME: Moments of Awareness Like most of Bishop’s poems, ‘First Death …’ is marked by moments of awareness. The narrator, a young girl, seems unaware of the reality of death. While she may be familiar with the word, she has little or no understanding of what death actually is or what it means for something to die. This is clear when she mentions the silence of the stuffed loon, she believes he has “kept his own counsel” since her uncle shot him: “Since Uncle Arthur fired / a bullet into him, / he hasn’t said a word”. The fact that this surprises her indicates her lack of comprehension of the reality of death.
THEME: Moments of Awareness As the poem’s title suggests, the passing of her cousin Arthur will be a powerful moment of awareness for the young speaker. It will be first real confrontation with death, her first understanding of what dying actually means. Throughout the poem, however, she tries to evade thoughts of bereavement, this uncomfortable new reality she is encountering for the first time. In stanza 2 she deliberately focuses on the stuffed loon instead of on her cousin.
THEME: Moments of Awareness Even when she is lifted up to give Arthur a flower, she tries to avoid contemplating his strange new state, preferring to focus on the loon and the coffin in which he lies: “Arthur’s coffin was / a little frosted cake / and the red-eyed loon eyed it / from his white frozen lake”. She attempts to avoid dealing with the true horror of death by thinking of it in innocent and homely terms: his coffin ”a little frosted cake”, and his body is compared to a doll. She also uses fantasy to avoid thinking about death, telling herself that Arthur is only white because Jack Frosty forgot to paint him. Similarly, she tells herself that Arthur won’t be around any longer, not because he is dead but because he is heading off to the court of King George where he will work as the “smallest page”.
THEME: Moments of Awareness However, though the speaker attempts to focus on the loon, her cousin keeps coming to her mind. She describes the loon in terms more appropriate to her cousin’s body, telling us how he “kept his own counsel”, and how he was “deep and white / cold and caressable”. He even uses the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘his’ instead of ‘it’ and ‘its’. It is also worth noting that the word “forever” is emphasised, by being bracketed off in line 33 and repeated in line 38. Despite the speaker’s attempts to avoid thinking about death, she is becoming aware, on some level, that an eternal and unalterable change has taken place.
THEME: Moments of Awareness The poem concludes with the speaker on the verge of awareness. We get the impression that the fantastic stories she tells herself, about Jack Frost and King George, aren’t capable of shielding her from the truth. She seems to know deep down that the story about Arthur going off to be a page simply can’t be true. Despite all her attempts to avoid this grim epiphany, she is about to understand what death is and what it means for a person to die; a realisation that is terrible, strange and unchangeable.
THEME: Childhood This is one of several poems where Bishop wonderfully captures the childhood mentality of her young speaker. The speaker’s childlike innocence comes across when she compares Arthur’s body to a doll “that hadn’t been painted yet” and his coffin to a “little frosted cake”. We see it in the way she describes what is surely cheap red glass as “much to be desired”. We also see it in the way she almost believes the stories about Jack Frost and King George.
Tone and Atmosphere The poem has a chilly, icy atmosphere, suitable to a poem that deals with themes of death. o In the first lines, we’re told the parlour is “cold, cold” – the repetition emphasising the room’s frostiness. o The loon’s breast is described as being “cold”. o The marble-topped table is compared to a “frozen lake”. o The coffin is compared to a “frosted cake”. o There is a reference to ‘Jack Frost’, a fairy-tale character associated with frost and coldness. o The roads in the surrounding countryside are described as being “deep in snow”
Tone and Atmosphere The poem’s final image is a particularly wintry one, as the speaker imagines little Arthur, vulnerable and alone, wandering through the icy terrain. Bishop’s relentless references to whiteness also contributes to the icy atmosphere. The loon’s breast is white, as is the table and Arthur’s coffin. Furthermore the flower paced in his hands is a white lily. Perhaps the most notable occurrence is that of Arthur’s pale corpse, which is now “white forever”.
Imagery One notable feature of this poem is the almost fairytale imagery Bishop deploys. We see this with the mention of Jack Frost and with the description of Arthur being called to serve as pageboy for King George. The image of the boy walking with his eyes shut tight through snowdrifts toward a king’s court is like something from one of the darker tales of Hans Christian Andersen. These fairytale images are not only innocent and childlike but are also haunting and even menacing.
Metaphor and Simile Bishop uses a fine metaphor to describe the table on which the loon rests, comparing it to a frozen lake: “He kept his own counsel / on his white frozen lake, / the marble-topped table”. In another metaphor, Arthur’s coffin is compared to a “little frosted cake”. In a revealing simile, Arthur’s corpse is compared to a doll: “He was all white, like a doll”
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2016 “Bishop uses highly detailed observation, of people, places and events, to explore unique personal experiences in her poetry. ” Discuss this statement, supporting your answer with reference to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on your course.
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2016 Marking Scheme: Candidates are free to agree and/or disagree wholly or in part with the statement, but they should engage with all aspects of the question. Answers should be supported by reference to the poems of Elizabeth Bishop on the Leaving Certificate course. Code: DO detailed observation of people, places and events E/E to explore unique personal experiences in her poetry
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2016 Indicative material: OBSERVATION: Bishop uses highly detailed observation of people, places and events - Bishop’s legendary “painterly eye” helps mirror the reality of people, places and events - vivid impressions created of memorable people, e. g. the prodigal, her Grandmother, the poet herself, etc. - actual places carefully observed e. g. the filling station, a family home etc. - events e. g. a young cousin’s death, catching the fish, etc. are accurately recorded in faithful/photographic detail to explore
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2016 Indicative material: PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: Unique personal experiences - such as childhood, identity, loss of innocence, travel, alcoholism, death, loss, religion, etc. which often lead to revealing moments of epiphany, love, acceptance, anger and frustration - the above experiences can have universal significance as well as personal meaning - Etc.
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2016 Address the Q immediately and throughout the essay. In your introduction give an overview of her detailed observation and use of personal experiences. (You will discuss these in much more detail later in the essay) Ø Eg: Her vivid images bring people and places to life, such as the grandmother in ‘Sestina’ and the family-run petrol station in ‘The Filling Station” Ø Eg: I particularly enjoyed Bishop’s poetry because she is so revealing of herself. She does not hesitate to discuss her difficult childhood in ‘First Death …’ and ‘Sestina’ or reflect on her own experiences as an alcoholic in ‘The Prodigal’. Though very personal, I learned a lot from Bishop’s poetry. State the five poems that you will discuss. Using SMILES as your guide, decide what you need to discuss on each individual poem. You won’t have time to write about everything so choose what will best prove your point that her poetry uses detail to explore personal experiences. The key words in the question should continually come up in your essay. Don’t forget about the Q once your intro is done!
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2013 “Bishop’s carefully judged use of language aids the reader to uncover the intensity of feeling in her poetry. ” To what extent do you agree or disagree with the above statement? Support your answer with reference to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on your course.
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2013 Marking Scheme: Reward responses that show clear evidence of engagement with “carefully judged use of language” and “intensity of feeling” (though not necessarily equally) in Bishop’s poetry. Allow that “aids the reader to uncover” may be addressed explicitly or implicitly. Code UL for carefully judged use of language Code IF for intensity of feeling
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2013 Indicative material: Precise language highlights memorable/emotional encounters with places/people/animals Absorbing reflections/preoccupations revealed through a wide range of tones/moods Clearly-defined personal experiences suggest hidden depths of emotion Control of emotions and the presence/absence of moralizing about childhood, nature and death Moments of insight/epiphany heightened by vivid detail, striking imagery/symbolism
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2013 Address the Q immediately and throughout the essay. In your introduction give an overview of her careful use of language (imagery, language, techniques) and how it reveals the intensity of her feelings. (You will discuss these in much more detail later in the essay) Ø Eg: Bishop’s memorable use of language helps her to reveal very personal subject matter which she clearly feels very strongly about. She does not hesitate to discuss her difficult childhood in ‘First Death …’ and ‘Sestina’ or reflect on her own experiences as an alcoholic in ‘The Prodigal’. Even an everyday experience like fishing or a trip to a filling station can prompt an epiphany. Her use of vivid imagery, metaphor and personification helps reveals the intensity of Bishop’s feelings State the five poems that you will discuss. Using SMILES as your guide, decide what you need to discuss on each individual poem. You won’t have time to write about everything so choose what will best prove your point that her poetry uses detail to explore personal experiences. The key words in the question should continually come up in your essay. Don’t forget about the Q once your intro is done!
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2009 “Elizabeth Bishop poses interesting questions delivered by means of a unique style. ” Do you agree with this assessment of her poetry? Your answer should focus on both themes and stylistic features. Support your points with the aid of suitable reference to the poems you have studied.
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2009 Marking Scheme: Reward responses that show clear evidence of engagement/involvement with the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. The terms of the question (‘interesting questions’, ‘unique’) may be addressed implicitly or explicitly. Expect discussion (though not necessarily equal) of both Bishop’s themes and her stylistic features. Code Q for interesting questions Code U for unique style.
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2009 Material might be drawn from the following: - Absorbing preoccupations about life’s meaning/nature of existence - Highly-charged questions about nature, isolation, childhood, home, order - Inquisitive explorations of violence, travel, memory, resilience - Distinctive use of language/imagery/form/tone - Vivid detail, painterly eye, moments of epiphany
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2009 Address the Q immediately and throughout the essay. In your introduction give an overview of her interesting questions and unique style. (You will discuss these in much more detail later in the essay) Ø Eg: Bishop’s inquisitive nature means she is constantly posing questions on a range of interesting issues such as nature, childhood, addiction and homelessness. I also found it particularly interesting that many of the questions Bishop asks result in moments of epiphany or sudden awareness, not only for the poet but for me also. Ø Eg: I found that Bishop’s unique style captured my imagination and made me think about day-to-day events like a simple fishing expedition, as well as bigger themes like death, in way other poets have not. I believe she succeeded in this through her use of vivid imagery, metaphor and tone, among other techniques. State the five poems that you will discuss. Using SMILES as your guide, decide what you need to discuss on each individual poem. You won’t have time to write about everything so choose what will best prove your point that her poetry uses detail to explore personal experiences. The key words in the question should continually come up in your essay. Don’t forget about the Q once your intro is done!
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2006 “Reading the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. ” Write out the text of a talk that you would give to your class in response to the above title. Your talk should include the following: - Your reactions to her themes or subject matter. - What you personally find interesting in her style of writing. Refer to the poems by Elizabeth Bishop that you have studied.
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2006 Marking Scheme: Note the instruction (“should”) to candidates to deal with both elements of the question. Expect discussion, though not necessarily equal, of both elements. Reward achievement of an appropriate register, but answers must contain clear evidence of engagement with the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop on the course. Code BT for discussion of Bishop’s themes Code BS for Bishop’s “style of writing”.
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2006 Material might be drawn from the following: - Travel and sense of place - Celebration of the ordinary - Childhood, nature, death - Range of moods in her poems - Freshness of her viewpoint - Vivid detailed description - Energy and intensity of her language - Variety of poetic forms
BISHOP EXAM QUESTION: 2006 In your introduction give an overview of her themes and style of writing. (You will discuss these in much more detail later in the essay) Ø Eg: I particularly enjoyed Bishop’s poetry because her inquisitive nature means she is constantly posing questions on a range of interesting issues such as nature, childhood, addiction and homelessness. I also found it particularly interesting that many of the questions Bishop asks result in moments of epiphany or sudden awareness, not only for the poet but for me also. Ø Eg: I appreciated the fact that Bishop is so revealing of herself. She does not hesitate to discuss her difficult childhood in ‘First Death …’ and ‘Sestina’ or reflect on her own experiences as an alcoholic in ‘The Prodigal’. Though very personal, I learned a lot from Bishop’s poetry. Ø Eg: Bishop’s memorable use of language helps her to reveal very personal subject matter which she clearly feels very strongly about. . Her use of vivid imagery, metaphor and tone helps reveals the intensity of Bishop’s feelings.
EXAM QUESTION TRENDS 2016: Unique personal experiences Detailed observation of people, places, events 2013: Intensity of her feelings Carefully judged use of language 2009: Poses interesting questions Unique style 2006: THEMES STYLE
EXAM QUESTION TRENDS 2016: Detailed observation of people, places, events Unique personal experiences 2013: Carefully judged use of language Intensity of her feelings 2009: Poses interesting questions Unique style 2006: THEMES STYLE