Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina” is a captivating poem filled with depictions that take the reader to the valleys of sadness and unresolved grief. The poem symbolizes the dynamics of an ongoing life as well as the powers of memory and an unsettled sense of loss. Beyond presenting sadness, the poem conveys the inter-generational challenges posed by a sense of loss and unresolved grief. The writer draws the reader into the poem through her use of personification of inanimate items and associating human feelings to everyday objects.

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The structure of the poem as a sestina helps the reader to relate to the main theme through emphasizing on emotive words that demonstrate a sense of grief and unresolved loss. This essay examines the author’s use of symbolism with inanimate objects as well as carefully placed emotive words were effective in conveying the powers of memory and inter-generational sense of loss through time. This sestina by Elizabeth Bishop seem to make the reader emotional even though the actual reasons for the causes of sadness remain unstated.

Tears are a way of expressing sadness and emotions that the reader strongly feel inside, but the grandmother in the poem is struggling and trying very hard to hide or disguise her tears. For the grandmother, the main reason for not letting her emotions overflow might be that she does not want to scare the child or remind her that something terrible is about to happen; perhaps, a possible harm to the child herself. The abstract way Bishop expresses the grief in this poem has a very intriguing nature and has the ability to captivate the reader’s attention.

And while writing the poem it is clear that Bishop was consulting her emotions. This poem creates vivid images and a vague concept in the reader’s minds through the use of symbolism creating a sense of mystery around what causes the grandmother’s sadness throughout the poem. The reasons for the grandmother’s sadness remain a mystery to the reader since there are lots of things that can be assumed as possible reasons. The “dark brown tears”(stanza 4 line 4) mentioned in the poem can be considered as signs that indicates something dark is about to happen.

Page 2 Elizabeth bishop sestina Essay

The rigid house the child draws could also be an indication that their house is filled with sadness. The poem gravitates towards grievance starting from the first stanza.The mood the writer depicts makes the reader construe somewhat a gloomy and stale mood. The grandmother, as presented in the poem, is trying to read jokes from the almanac, which seems to be an annual publication. Although she tries to read an almanac, a material with a light-hearted content, she still remains in a state of sadness.

Her tears could possibly be associated with a yearly event which was foretold by the almanac. What the almanac represents seem to be only known to the grandmother-perhaps something related to the child (paraphrased, Rogers). The use of symbolism is highly effective throughout the poem, especially, when depicting the family dynamics. As the child stares at the “teakettle’s small hard tears” the grandmother hangs up the almanac by its string. When she hung up the almanac by its string, it hovers like a bird: just like the child is hovering upon the grandmother.

The poem also talks about a teacup filled with dark brown tears which is also a sign that something dark is about to happen and also the teacup is filled with dark brown tears just like the grandmother is filled with sadness and emotions. she shivers and thinks the house is chilly, but she just feels that way because she is sad and she shivers because all of a sudden she gets the feeling that she is about to be lonely; therefore, she puts more wood in the stove. The mysterious presentation gives the reader the opportunity to integrate one’s own imagination to the story as portrayed in the poem.

The marvel stove and the almanac seems to know what is about to happen and the reason that the grandmother is sad. Meanwhile, the child draws a rigid house which looks like the house they are living in and the child also draws a man with buttons like tears. Perhaps, the child is drawing someone who is mourning someone who could possibly be a deceased family member; perhaps, the child’s parents or grandfather. In this poem the reader has to interpret grief and emotion differently when reading this poem mainly because the causes for tears, grief, and losses are not stated, leaving the reader to imagine the different possible causes.

The author’s personal background may have contributed to the story being emotionally charged as she herself was an orphan. There is a good chance that the author probably could relate to the grandmother in the poem. The author could also probably understand how awful and sad losing someone you love can feel. The story also seems to indicate that there is an invisible tension between the grandmother and the child because in the child’s head there seems to exist a feeling that something bad is about to happen for which the child is not quite ready.

In the article “Life Forms” by Janine Rogers, it is stated that one possible reason that the child is going to die could possibly be because of a hereditary medical issue. That also reminds the grandmother of someone she lost to that disease before during September; however, the reader of the poem cannot be certain. The phrase “Time to plant Tears” in the end said by the almanac can be a marker that the event that the grandmother was grieving about is going to happen. She feels that by disguising her emotions she is keeping the child safe.

The almanac, therefore, seems to be a reminder of something that will happen periodically; this periodic magazine is an item of some memory to the grandmother. The child on the other hand, does not seem to feel so much grievance or sadness. The child could be the reason why the grandmother is trying her best to hide her emotions. The quote, “little moons fall down like tears from between the pages of the almanac into the flower bed the child has carefully placed in front of the house” might be a symbol of a grave for the child to be buried in.

Starting from the beginning the poem makes the reader carefully investigate the reason for the grandmother’s grief rather in a very circulated and repetitive manner while still being hypnotized by the story she is telling about the grandmother and her grandchild. While this poem may seem straight forward it is more abstract. To summarize, Elizabeth Bishop’s Sestina, “Time to Plant Tears”, is a carefully constructed emotional story between a grandmother and her grandchild. The poem successfully conveys grief and sadness.

In addition to that, it has the ability to fully immerse the reader to give them the experience of what the grandmother is going through. It takes the reader on a sad emotional journey and the most surprising thing about this poem is that the reader cannot be certain about the reasons that caused the grandmother to grieve. From the beginning through to the end of the poem, the author has managed to portray emotions of sadness really well while captivating the reader’s imagination into wondering as to the causes of the unresolved grief and sadness.

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