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Elizabeth Bishop And Her Writing Style

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Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry essentially revolves around the combination of precise language, vivid imagery and the intertwining of the poems with her life. These features of her writing make it appealing to the reader and aids us in deeply understanding her troubled but interesting childhood. Through Bishop’s use of skillful language and vivid imagery , in my opinion, she is able to create an atmosphere which helps to confront the harsh realities of life. The poems I believe best illustrate this are ‘First Death of Nova Scotia’ ,‘Sestina’, ‘Filling Station’, ‘The Prodigal’ and ‘The Fish’.

The language in Bishop’s poetry is simple and often childlike, most prominent in ‘First Death in Nova Scotia’. This poem focuses on the exploration of one of life’s harsh realities. This poem is written from a little girl’s perspective, so the language is befitting. It deals with the girl confronting the death of her cousin, Arthur. The poem begins with Arthur’s body laid out. The room is described as a ‘cold, cold parlour’ and immediately the repetition of cold creates a ‘frozen, lifeless’ atmosphere. The child goes on to mention the ‘stuffed loon shot and stuffed by Arthur’s Father’. The corpse of Arthur and the dead loon add to the lifeless atmosphere. In the next stanza, Bishop looks at the loon more closely. She interestingly personifies it by saying the loon ‘hadn’t said a word’ since it had been killed. I believe that this is a subtle link to how Arthur hadn’t spoken since he had died too. The fact that she doesn’t get why a dead bird isn’t speaking suggests that she doesn’t fully understand the significance of death. The colours of red and white are repeated throughout this poem. The white ‘tiny lily’, ‘the frosted little cake and ‘deep snow’ are possibly symbols of purity and innocence. The red ‘Canadian Maple leaf’ and red clothing of the ‘ gracious royals’ are the only sources of warmth in this cold parlour. Bishop uses an effective simile in the line ‘He was all white like a doll that hadn’t been painted yet.’. This line was very moving when I first read and it truly highlights the tragedy of the death of Arthur. It hurt to think that Bishop may have gone through this as a child. At the end of this moving poem, the child tries to understand what is actually happening by imagining a fairy tale ending. I found it interesting how Bishop used a ‘royal couple’ and Arthur going to court rather than going for the simple and more common idea of heaven. The child begins to start using words like ‘forever,frozen and cold’. This suggests that she’s finally understamding the finality of death. The poem ends with a question, ‘but how could Arthur go… and the roads deep in snow?’. This moment truly captures the uncertainty of the child that is evident throughout the poem and in a way, it captures the uncertainty of death. Bishop was able to effectively use precise language and vivid imagery and that allowed her to reach a moment of insight involving one of the harsh realities of life: Death

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Another poem which left an impression on me in how it skilfully explored a harsh reality of life through vivid language and precise descriptions is the poem ‘Sestina’.This poem, much like ‘First Death of Nova Scotia’ is written through a little girl’s perspective. ‘Sestina’ deals with a little girl coming to terms with life without her parents . The poem begins with the line ‘September rain falls on the house’. This use of pathetic fallacy immediately sets a sad, sorrowful and grieving atmosphere as the bad weather already reflects the mood in the house.We are introduced to the grandmother reading jokes from an almanac to her granddaughter. However, grief cancels this apparent sense of happiness by the ‘failing light‘. This is then made obvious by the description of the grandmother ‘laughing and talking to hide her tears.’ Bishop’s precise, detailed descriptions represent my favourite feature in this poem. She uses each description differently to signify sadness. Similarly to ‘First Death of Nova Scotia’, the child tries to comprehend her feelings through the inanimate objects around her. We are introduced to such descriptions when ‘the child is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears’. We see symbolism used simultaneously with personification when ‘the iron kettle sings on the stove’. In the midst of the grieving atmosphere in the house the stove symbolises warmth and brings comfort. This brings ‘happiness into the kettle’ above it and it sings to illustrate that happiness. Tears are the most prominent image conveyed in this poem and are used both literally and figuratively in this poem and this is an example of its figurative use. Bishop is describing what the condensation on the kettle looks like through the child’s eyes. This might be Bishop’s way of letting us know that though the child isn’t exactly aware of the grandmother’s crying, as she is hiding the tears, she still senses the sadness, even if only in the back of her mind. Other descriptions are when ‘the little moons fall down like tears’, when ‘her teacup is full of dark brown tears’ and the man’s coat with ‘button like tears’. The repetition of tears through metaphors and similes merged with Bishop’s precise language is incredibly powerful and allowed me as the reader to be confronted with a harsh reality of life through the perspective of a child: life without parents.

‘The Fish’ is another poem that vastly showcases Bishop’s use of imagery and skillful language to confront life’s harsh realities. In this poem, Bishop describes the experience of catching a fish.The poem starts with the poet expressing her excitement and pride at catching a ‘tremendous fish’. The tone is already filled with joy. This changes in the next line as Bishop is disappointed that the fish did not make an attempt to fight back at all. .

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Elizabeth Bishop And Her Writing Style. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“Elizabeth Bishop And Her Writing Style.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
Elizabeth Bishop And Her Writing Style. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Sept. 2023].
Elizabeth Bishop And Her Writing Style [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Sept 30]. Available from:
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