Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sestina

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string.  Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway.  Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.


Elizabeth Bishop.


I chose this poem because I had just read the Sestina, "A Miracle for Breakfast," and was intrigued by this poem because it was named, "Sestina," the poem form that I had just discovered.  The title also interested me because in music, works are often named by their forms: Sonata, Concerto, Quartet, Symphony, Minuet, etc etc.  When I read it, the title became of more interest to me because the poem is not titled Sestina only because it is written in the form of a Sestina, but also because this form implies something about one of the characters (see below).  I wonder why the grandmother is sad though, and why the child draws houses.

-Personification: Bishop does almost a double personification with the condensation on the teakettle.  She calls the water droplets tears of the teakettle, personifying the teakettle by giving it tears, and then these tears are further personified because they dance.  The rain is also said to dance.  The stove and the almanac also both speak.
-Repetition: Although it is one of the ending words, "tears" felt very repeated to me.  Maybe this was because the other repeating words were "grandmother," and "child" which were both characters in the poem, and then "almanac," "house," and "stove" which all were characters in the poem in their own way.  Maybe it stood out to me because tears were the only word that seemed to affect the tone/mood so much.
-Characterization through form: The grandmother seems to restrain herself from showing her true emotions, paralleling the restrictive form of the Sestina.
-Tone: The poem has a rather sad and melancholy tone.  The action/plot that occurs is minimal, but rain is introduced to the poem in the very first line, setting us up in the tone that remains throughout the entire poem.  Tears was also an obvious indicator of the poem's tone, but other more subtle words set up the tone as well such as "falls," "failing light," "beats,""shivers," "chilly," "secretly," "hard," and "dark."

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