Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry changes everyday scenes to vivid imagery. Bishop has a keen eye for detail as she converts the visual images that she sees into words of poetic language that creates vivid images in the reader’s mind.
The poem “The Fish” is bombarded with intense imagery of the fish. The fish is ‘tremendous’, ‘battered’, ‘venerable’, and ‘homely’. Bishop is very sympathetic towards the fish’s situation as she imagines the fish’s life stories. She compares the fish to familiar household objects: “here and there / his brown skin hung in strips / like ancient wallpaper, / and its pattern of darker brown / was like wallpaper”. She uses this simile to create a familiar picture in the reader’s mind about the condition of the fish.
Bishop then sets to explain what she means by ‘wallpaper’: “shapes like full-blown roses / stained and lost through age”. She uses the comparison of the ‘ancient wallpaper’ to describe the fish’s age. Bishop uses this to illustrate the fish’s faded skin which has aged and has withstood the test of time, like the wallpaper.
The poet’s powers of observation and description is again evident in the poem “Filling Station”. The poem starts with a striking clear image of her entire surroundings: “Oh, but it is dirty!”. The image of an ‘overall black translucency’ conveys the picture of the overwhelming filth in the filling station. The poet closely examines her surroundings of the ‘oil-soaked’ station. She even notices how the father’s monkey suit ‘cuts him under the arms’.
Bishop’s close observations are due to her curious questions that she asks herself in the poem. “Why the extraneous plant? / Why the taboret? / Why, oh why, the doily?”. Through these questions, Bishop tries to understand the reality that lies behind the external appearances.
‘First death in Nova Scotia’ describes a child’s attempts to come to terms with her first experience of death. Even as a child, Bishop was sharply observant, thinking deeply about her surroundings. She describers the lifeless loon as being ‘cold and caressable’. This shows the child’s confusion when confronted by death. Bishop is very imaginative about her surroundings as the marble topped table becomes the loon’s ‘white frozen lake’ and Arthur’s coffin is ‘a little frosted cake’. She compares little Arthur to being a “doll that hadn’t been painted yet”, which highlights the tragedy of the child’s death. This poem is particularly filled with vivid imagery as the world is seen from the mind and eyes of a imaginative and creative child.
Elizabeth Bishop’s vivid imagery in her poetry appeals to many readers. Her style of writing is filled with detailed and imaginative descriptions which creates the vivid images for the reader as everyday scenes are transformed in her poetry. Her remarkable use of unusual similes and metaphors create this in her poetry.