Bishop – Sestina


  • Father died when she was eight months old
  • Mother spent the next five years in and out of hospital until she was permanently institutionalised.
  • Moved between grandparents. The grandparent in this poem is her father’s mother


Stanza One

  • Gloomy atmosphere created in the opening with the rain. This is enhanced by the ‘failing light’. The imagination of the child is shown when she personifies the almanac and the stove. The child knows there is grief but does not fully understand why in lines five and six.

Stanza Two

  • Negative/gloomy atmosphere as the child sees tears everywhere “equinoctial tears” and the continuation of the “rain that beats on the roof”. The child knows that there is something wrong even though the grandmother tries to act normal “cuts some bread”.

Stanza Three

  • The Grandmother continues to try and act as normal as possible “It’s time for tea now”. However the child continues to project an unknown sadness on the objects in the house “teakettle’s small hard tears”. The rain again continues the sense of gloom. The reference to the ‘clever almanac’ looks at as something that predicts the future maybe this predicted Bishops unhappy future.

Stanza Four

  • The almanac hanging over the child ‘Birdlike’ can look at a bird of prey and hovering over Bishop suggests the prediction of an unhappy future. Again the child’s sadness is emphasised by attaching tears to objects ‘teacup full of dark brown tears’.

Stanza Five

  • The opening suggests an understanding that Bishops future is destined to be sad. Like any child Bishop escapes into the world of imagination to express her grief by drawing a house. The ‘buttons like tears’ shows this picture to represent sadness.


Stanza Six

  • Again we have the grandmother trying to act normal ‘busies herself about the stove’. The ‘little moons fall down like tears’ on Bishops ‘flower bed’ can again emphasise that Bishop sees this as a prediction of a life of unhappiness growing with the flowers.

Stanza Seven

  • ‘Time to plant tears’ again looks at the idea that Bishop believes it was predetermined that she would have an unhappy life.

Points to note:

  • Bishop’s unhappiness began at childhood.
  • Belief that her life was destined to be sad ‘almanac’.
  •  No hope shown for the future ‘Time to plant tears’

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