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Prescribed Poetry Elizabeth Bishop

A level answer

“Emotional intensity, often subtly but brilliantly expressed, is the essence of good poetry.”

I completely agree with the above statement, and in my opinion it could apply directly to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. I enjoy the poetry of Bishop because the emotions hidden behind the words, which means that one must tease the poem apart to fully understand it.

In “Sestina”, Bishop describes a domestic scene in which grandmother and child sit in the kitchen with the stove. If the reader knew Bishop’s background, they would be aware that her father died and that her mother was committed to an asylum. Immediately, we see the absence of a parental figure. Something is wrong, but Bishop never reveals what. Instead she subtly reveals the emotional intensity of the poem by describing the grandmother and child’s actions. In the beginning, the grandmother is “reading jokes from the Almanac, talking and laughing to hide her tears”. Why is the grandmother crying? We don’t know, but Bishop often uses inanimate objects to reveal the emotional intensity of the poem, and we see that “she thinks her equinoctial tears and the rain were both foretold by the almanac”. Instantly the almanac becomes foreboding, and Bishop subtly introduces a fear of the future. The intensity of this fear is introduced when “bird like, the almanac hovers half open above the child, hovers above the grandmother”. It’s clear that the fear of the future is hovering over the pair. We see the little child “watching the teakettle’s small hard tears dance like mad on the hot black stove”. Dancing like mad? Here I believe that the child is thinking of her mother, and again the emotional intensity of the moment is presented in a subtle manner by Bishop. Possibly the most emotional moment is when the child draws a “rigid house with a winding pathway”, a clear cry for stability, but one so subtly expressed that Bishop makes it nigh impossible to find. When the reader does find it however, it makes it all ...

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