Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry: Variety of Poetic Forms

Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry: Variety of Poetic Forms

The FishThe poem is set in free verse. There are short lines with enjambment present, giving the impression of Bishop simply spilling her thoughts out onto the page, such as when Bishop remarks ‘I caught a tremendous fish/ and held him beside the boat/ half out of water, with my hook/ fast in a corner of his mouth’; sentences run for a number of lines, presenting the poet as one who is not writing these lines on a page but speaking them out loud, almost as if she were present at the scene and is speaking as she catches the fish.

The Filling StationThe poem is set in blank verse, with very few lines rhyming, such as the poem’s beginning where Bishop remarks ‘Oh, but it is dirty!/ – this little filling station’. Despite this, Bishop’s conversational tone is present in such remarks as “Be careful with that match!’ and ‘Do they live in the station?’, and the poem takes the form of being directed at someone particular, as opposed to a general nature, which compliments the poem’s conversational tone. This may represent a desire of Bishop for some connection with someone whom she can have such dialogue with, as she cannot connect with her father, who wears ‘a dirty,/ oil-soaked monkey suit’, or her brothers, those ‘several quick and saucy/ and greasy sons’, all of whom reside in a place that is ‘quite thoroughly dirty’.

First Death in Nova ScotiaThe only order in the poem is the structure, with five stanzas of ten lines. There is little rhyme, with enjambment present throughout the poem, such as when the poet begins the fourth stanza with rhyme which soon disappears as enjambment enters: ‘Arthur was very small./ He was all white, like a doll/ that hadn’t been painted yet./ Jack Frost had started to paint him/ the way he always painted/ the Maple Leaf (Forever). He had just begun on his hair, a few red strokes, and then/ Jack Frost had dropped the brush/ and left him white, forever.’ The distortion of order, caused by a lack of rhyme and enjambment (which earlier was represented in The Fish as the speaker spilling her thoughts out rather than structuring them accordingly on the page) may be seen to represent the aforementioned difficult of the young Bishop to deal with death, and symbolize how it has distorted the world she has been used to up until the death of her cousin.

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John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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