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Literary Devices In Elizabeth Bishop's Works

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In this essay I will identify some of the creative features evident in Bishops poem such as; foregrounding, deviation, parallelism and defamiliarisation, whilst considering the different ways these creative effects are achieved. I will also discuss the different lenses used to view creativity, and how these creative techniques can be viewed through the critical, textual and conceptual lenses.; whilst also considering the importance of genre when identifying creative features.

In order to provide context to the creative features within the poem it is important to understand how linguistic creativity is defined. Demjen explains that ‘‘linguistic creativity’ is also…referred to as poetic/literary…or verbal art (p21, 2017). Bishops poem falls into this definition and it is important that we view its creative features within the context of poetic creativity. Demjen further explains that ‘something is creative if it is novel, of high quality and appropriate [which could be] an uncommon metaphor used successfully to communicate a complex concept or idea’ (p21, 2017) and this definition informs the study of linguistic creativity in this poem.

The textual lens, which involves considering language itself within a literary concept (p23, 2017) is important when identifying creativity in this poem. Demjen states that, ‘in trying to distinguish between ‘poetic’ and ordinary language, scholars…posited that the purpose of art (including literature) was to defamilarise common objects and concepts’ (p24, 2017). This idea of defamiliarisation is prevalent in Bishops poem and I will now identify examples of how this is achieved.

Bishop uses a technique called foregrounding in order to defamiliarise concepts and words, and this is achieved by ‘making things stand out’ (Demjen, p24, 2017). On line 1, the word ‘Nature’ is foregrounded as it has a capital letter, even though it is the second word of the poem. This is subverting grammatical norms to draw the reader’s attention to the word, ‘Nature’. It is clear that the poem is concerned with the natural world and this is reinforced throughout the poem. On line 3 Bishop refers to ‘foliage’, before applying repetition of the word , ‘leaves’; ‘ big leaves, little leaves and giant leaves’. Repetition is an effective method of making words stand out and call attention to themselves, something which Jakobson considered to be , ‘the poetic function of language’ (Demjen, p28, 2017). Bishop is drawing attention to the word ‘leaves’ to further reinforce the concept of nature within the poem and this is further enhanced by the alliteration present in ‘little leaves’ which is also an effective foregrounding technique; also evident on line 13, ‘rust red’. Line 20, ‘perching there in profile’ and ‘puffed and padded’ (line 22) are further examples of phonetic parallelism of which alliteration is an example of (p27, 2017). The repetition of colours throughout the poem is noticeable and it is clear that Bishop is foregrounding the theme of colours throughout the poem, by using unexpected repetition. (Demjen, p27, 2017). Line 12 is a good example of this creative technique, as the unexpected repetition of, ‘yellow, two yellows’ stands out as incongruous and reinforces the word yellow and the theme of colour.

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Bishop also uses figurative language throughout the poem in order to defamilarise the familiar and create deviation from semantic norms (Demjen, p27, 2017).This is evident on line 37 with the simile ‘ hard as nails’ comparing one thing to another, which is followed up on line 38 with another simile, ‘ tiny as nails’. This draws attention to nails particularly as the well-known simile, ‘hard as nails’ is followed up by an unfamiliar simile. This deviation puts us firmly in the region of poetics as the poet tries to create a deeper meaning by semantic deviation, Draycott suggesting that, ‘ The poetic imagination…isn’t interested so much in what things are really like as [to] what they suggest’ (Demjen, p127, 2017). Bishop also uses metaphor to achieve this creative effect, obvious on line 29 where she describes a colour as ‘hell green’, which is unusual, as one may expect the colour red to be associated with hell, given its historical association with fire. Here we have another example of foregrounding, achieved by ‘playing with our preconceptions’ (Jeffries and McIntyre, p5, 2010). This line is particularly creative as it has used metaphor for poetic effect, whilst also defamilarising the colour green in its relationship with the concept of hell. Bishop further uses metaphor to compare one thing with another, on line 31 which references, ‘scaling-ladder vines’.

There are also examples of creativity within the poem viewed through the contextual lens. Demjen states that ‘the contextual lens focuses on the social, cultural and historical context of language use’, (p31, 2017). I would consider that lines 47-48 could be viewed through this lens as it references a specific song that can provide insight into the cultural context of the time, ‘Directly after Mass, humming perhaps/ L’Homme arme or some such tune’. Although the context is unclear to me, further research may reveal this tune to be particularly relevant to the effect the poet is putting across, and is relevant to how creativity is viewed through the contextual lens.

The final lens used to identify linguistic creativity is the critical lens which ‘highlights the role of creativity in evaluation and how it is evaluated itself’ (Demjen, p41, 2017). In this instance we only have a printed poem and little information about the author or poem. I would consider it fair to assume that due to it being published as part of a volume of poems (The complete poems: 1927-79) it is part of a body of work considered highly enough to be published and also to be used for an Open University assignment. It suggests a poet who has achieved recognition and has been critically well received, which can certainly shape ones opinions, when it comes to analysing the poem for linguistic creativity.

In conclusion we can see how Bishop has used creative effects such as, parallelism, deviation, rhyme, repetition and figurative language to achieve the creative effect of foregrounding within poetics. I consider the textual lens to be the most useful lens for this assignment, given the lack of background information available, yet with deeper research one may also consider the contextual lens to be revealing, whilst the critical lens also affects ones thinking, given the critical esteem given to a published poet.


  1. Demjen, Z. (2017) ‘What is linguistic creativity’ in Demjen, Z. and Seargeant, P. (eds) Creativity in Language, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp17-54
  2. Jeffries, L and McIntyre, D. (2010) Stylistics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press pp 1-65
  3. Monaghan, F and Cook, G. (2017) ‘Creativity in translation’ in Demjen, Z. and Seargeant, P. (eds) Creativity in Language, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp173-209
  4. Neale, D.. (2017) ‘Creativity and creative writing’ in Demjen, Z. and Seargeant, P. (eds) Creativity in Language, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp121-166
  5. Peplow, D.. (2017) ‘Creativity in everyday conversation’ in Demjen, Z. and Seargeant, P. (eds) Creativity in Language, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp67-108
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Literary Devices In Elizabeth Bishop’s Works. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Literary Devices In Elizabeth Bishop’s Works.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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