Feminist - Photographic Imagery - Precision.
With Emily Bishop it is as though you are standing at a window looking in.
Her ideas are communicated through her seemingly idle thoughts and observations.
Often there is a powerful message behind the words.
This poem reveals to us Bishop’s optimistic view of life in spite of her own difficulties. An unexpected subject for a poem which assures us that beauty can be found in even the most banal and mundane things. The poem appeals to us all as it shows that human beings, no matter what their circumstances, need to have beauty and order in their lives.
Bishop uses exact and precise language to portray the filth of the filling station. When she looks at the filling station, it is as though everything is shiny and black. The oil has created a glistening sheen over everything. She adds that this excess oil is ‘disturbing’ or dangerous.
Having observed the details of the filling station, she wonders about the family who lives in there, and begins to notice small attempts to create a sense of home amidst the filth.
‘a set of crushed and grease-
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy’
She notices comics which have been preserved from the grease, and a doily, which shows that some-one is trying to create beauty and domesticity in spite of the dirt that surrounds them.
‘a big dim doily
draping a taboret’
Bishop asks a number of questions as she tries to look beneath the surface of what she sees. She wonders why somebody would make an attempt to make the place beautiful when it’s all going to get dirty anyway. Bishop realizes that ‘somebody’, who we never see, is trying to make more ordered life for themselves. In the midst of dirt and untidiness, ‘somebody’ tries to create order and beauty.
‘Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?’
She ends the poem with a proverb – that in spite of our failings, in spite of what seems dirty and objectionable
‘somebody loves us all’.
This is a comforting thought. Even the dirty, greasy filling station can reveal this truth or insight to us.
The poem makes us question our life and our place in the world. The poem is an allegory. It can be interpreted on a symbolic level. For example, the filling station represents the world and life in general; the grease and oil represents the disorder and chaos in our lives; the doily and plant represent our attempt to create beauty and order. It is part of human nature to find beauty. Who is this 'Somebody', who cares for us but isn't seen?
Bishop gives us a lot of detail about the filling station and in particular she relies on visual images so that the reader can see for themselves the scene she is describing. It is as though the poem is a lens through which we see the world.
‘this little filling station,
The repetition of the word ‘somebody’ suggests that there is always a presence, a person who cares even of they are never named. It would seem to suggest that a mother’s presence can always be felt even if she is not actually there.
The arrangement of the cans so that they read ‘So So So’ has been done on purpose. The effect of the sibilant repetition calms and soothes those who live there and those who pass by. The word ‘softly’ also suggests also that we need a calm presence in our lives.
First Death in Nova Scotia
A young child is taken into a parlor on a winter day to view her deceased cousin Arthur who is laid out in a coffin resembling a "little frosted cake".
The child notes a stuffed loon standing on a marble-topped table eyeing the casket and prints of British royalty in ermine trains hung above the deceased.
The child is given a lily of the valley and lifted by her mother to place the flower in dead Arthur's hand.
The child notes, and makes an allusion to Jack Frost, who has painted Arthur's red hair with a bit of "white paint".
The child also tells us that the royals have invited Arthur to be "the smallest page at court".
The child wonders how Arthur will ever go to court because "his eyes are shut up so tight" and the roads are "deep in snow"
The poem expresses the simplicity of thought when a child experiences an encounter with death for the first time. The poem is a memory from Bishop's life. Again her description is detailed and expresses wonder at the reality of death.
The thoughts expressed are gentle. There is no agonizing about the reason why Arthur has died. The sense of loss is expressed in the curious wonder that Arthur cannot take his place as page to the King and Queen contained in the prints on the wall above.
The poem is beautifully phrased. Bishop describes the corpse as though is is in the process of being painted by 'Jack Frost'.
We can easily visualize the scene, such is the detail.
There is a sense of calm about the scene. We get a sense of the strangeness of the experience for the child. The calm observation, which is so prevalent in Bishop's poetry.
This poem was written by Bishop when she was living in Brazil.
Each year the locals celebrated the feast-day of a local saint by sending fire balloons into the sky.
The balloons are mysterious, graceful and dangerous.
Each year the celebration poses dangers to people and animals.
Note how she changes the tone from calm wonder to fear and horror when she describes the reaction of the animals - we hear them 'shriek'. The rabbit with his ears burned away, the rabbit's eyes 'ignited'.
Then we see the Armadillo, it's 'rose-flecked' shell, desperately trying to protect itself.
The final stanza is set apart by the use of italics.
It is as though here, Bishop is speaking on behalf of the Armadillo. She expresses incomprehension and anger at the thoughtless destruction.
Through this poem we can examine a number of themes: Religion - the use of ritual- good in itself and beautiful in its symbolism but perhaps within is a kind of ignorance of the real power and consequences of mindless worship