What I admire about the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop is her combination of precise, imaginative description and thought provoking insight. The poet closely observes and vividly describes the world around her. Her famous eye for detail and original imagery gives her poetry a strong visual quality, drawing the reader into the world she describes. However, what makes her poetry particulary appealing to me is her desire to probe beneath the surface of things. We see how her close observation leads to inner reflection and moments of perception. These moments of perception helps us as readers to get a better understanding of the world in which she lives in. Her poetry is rooted in personal experiences, but has a general universal theme.
I enjoyed ‘The Fish’ for its unusual imagery, detailed description and uplifting epiphany. We are drawn into the poem by the opening lines ‘I caught a tremendous fish’ The poets respect for the fish is immediately conveyed, he is ‘battered and venerable and homely’. A domestic simile helps us to visualise this huge, ancient fish, while evoking a sense of comfortable familiarity ‘his brown skin hung in strips, like ancient wallpaper’ Imaginative similes conjure up an image of the inside of the fish, his flesh is ‘packed in like feathers’, while his swim bladder is ‘like a big poeny’. An interesting shift in the poem occurs when the poet looks into the fish’s eyes and begins to engage with him. Observation leads to reflection. The poet empathises with the fish when she observes the five hooks that had ‘grown firmly in his mouth’. Like the poet, I admire the fish for surviving the trials of tribulations of life. It is at this point that the poet achieves a moment of insight. The hooks are ‘like medals with their ribbons, frayed and wavering’, suggests that the poet now sees the fish as a war veteran. This is a wonderful comparison. The ancient fish is now a symbol for the resilience of the human spirit and for our capacity to survive the vicissitudes of life. This insight has an uplifting effect on the poet and indeed on the reader. I particulary like the optimistic image with which the poem ends ‘until everything was rainbow,rainbow,rainbow!’ Having achieved victory and endurance, the fish deserves to be let go.
Elizabeth Bishops powers of observation and description, as well as her remarkable ability to achieve awareness through reflecting on ordinary, everyday experiences are again evident in ‘Filling Station’ The conversational tone draws us into the poem ‘Oh, but it is dirty!’ The image of an ‘overall black translucency’ perfectly conveys the sense of overwhelming filth. The poet closely observes every aspect of the ‘oil-soaked’ station. even noticing how the father’s monkey suit ‘cuts him under the arms’. Her close observation of the unlikely domestic world that she encounters here sets her thinking, ‘Why the extraneous plant?, Why the taboret?, Why, oh why, the doily?’. These questions reflect the poets admirable curiosity to understand the reality that lies behind external apperances.
Again we see how reflection leads to insight. The poet realises that some unseen person (probably a woman) has done her best to create some semblance of domestic order in the world of grime ‘Somebody waters the plant, or oils it maybe’. Even the oil cans are neatly arranged so as to sooth the fraught nerves of drivers. I enjoyed the poets clever use of personification as well as repetition of the soothing ‘so’ sound: ‘they sofetly say: ESSO-so-so-so to high-strung automobiles’ The poet concludes that there is always someone doing their best to quietly improve the quality of our lives. ‘Somebody loves us all’. As in ‘The Fish’, poet and reader are uplifted by a very positive, reassuring insight into human life. I like the way Bishop reflects on a personal experience to discover an uplifting universal truth.
‘First Death in Nova Scotia’ describes a childs attempts to come to terms with her first experience of death. It is particulary poignant because we see the world through the eyes of an innocent and confused child. Evan as a child, Bishop was sharply observant, taking in every aspect of the cold parlour, including the old chromographsand the stuffed loon. The description of the lifeless loon as ‘cold and caressable’ effectively conveys the childs confusion when confronted with death. Bishops images are typically imaginative: the marble topped table becomes the loons ‘white frozen lake’, while Arthurs coffin is ‘a little frosted cake’. The simile comparing little Arthur to a ‘doll that hadn’t been painted yet’ is very moving, highlighting, as it does, the tragedy of a childs death. Through closely observing and reflecting on the situation in which she finds herself, the young Bishop gets a sense of the terrible finality of death. The child tries to come up with a happy fairytail ending to this tragic happening by imagining that the royal figures ‘invited Arthur to be the samllest page at court’. However, she sadly concludes that her lifeless cousin, trapped in the embrace of death and clutching his ‘tiny lily’ will be unable to travel ‘roads deep in snow’. It is the childs perspective on death which makes this poem both interesting and poignant.
To conclude, I enjoyed Bishops poerty particualry because of its moments of insight, her ability to probe beneath outer appearances and discover universal truths is very impressive. In terms of her style, I was struck by her remarkably vivid descriptions and unusual similes and metaphors.