Elizabeth Bishop In The Waiting Room English Literature Essay

To start off in the poem “In the Waiting Room”, Bishop has you envision a younger version of herself surrounded by a dark winter, resembling the unknown world that surrounds her. In the course of the poem, Bishop takes the reader from a personal world to a wide world of volcanoes, dead men on poles, naked women and babies, and war. Then, the poem proceeds to dive into the mind of a six year old who comes face to face with herself, “…but I felt: you are an I, You are an Elizabeth, You are one of them. Why should you be one, too? (lines 60 -63) and the young Elizabeth realizes she does not know whether or not to associate herself with this other human female from across the world or her aunt who is in the other room. She is confused and probably hotly blushing, “The waiting room was bright and too hot. It was sliding beneath a big black wave…”, but she knows much less the world around her, “in Worcester, Massachusetts were night and slush and cold,” all dark and cold symbolizing her lack of knowledge (7-8, stanza 4-5).

In the poem “Crusoe in England” we find her switching between the macro and the micro as well, yet this time Bishop specifically shows that although a person can see a thing as a whole they always narrow it down to self-experience. Bishop has Crusoe explain his island in a very universal matter: the colors, animals climate, volcanoes, etc. However, this causes a swing in the behavior as Crusoe then begins to tell the audience about how this made him feel on a dramatically personal level, “Beautiful, yes, but not much company. I often gave way to self-pity. ‘Do I deserve this?’” (11, stanzas 4 and 5). Then he begins to describe the expanse of the sun, the beach, the island landscape, the birds, the smells, and once again, he narrows it down to the singular level of personal dreams that all this solitude gave him in the tenth stanza. Elizabeth then asks a universal question as to who decides what is what, but from the personal view point of a singular person, just like in “The Waiting Room”.

In this macro to micro approach, Bishop starts out with a sweeping description of nature in The Moose: the bay, roads, rural scenery of farmhouses, and forests. It is not until the tenth stanza that one hears about the first human in the poem, and not until stanza thirteen that the first passenger on the bus is introduced. Like Google earth, she narrows the line of sight down to a bus driving down the roads. As they get further and further along, Bishop moves in closer and closer into the personal, with the personal stories of people and others relating to similar experiences, “Life’s like that. We know it (also death),” (28, stanz. 20). The moose then comes out to look over the bus, and Bishop takes the audience into the view of one passenger, and then uses that experience to describe a one of her own, “Why, why do we feel, (we all feel) this sweet, sensation of joy” (lines 155-157)?.

In One Art, Bishop again demonstrates the ability to expand and then narrow the field of experience. Bishop starts with the universal experience of losing describing (don’t understand) the loss of everyday objects, thoughts, and names, all of which we are familiar. Then, in the last stanza, she narrows it down to the loss of “you,” the personal self. However, Bishop used the reverse of macro to micro with the typewriter in 12 O’Clock News. Using the vision of a person viewing the unknown, she describes a typewriter in a way that no one would ever present when they know the use. She takes the narrow view, the name of the stanza, and then broadens the view of the very object by explaining how it looks, what is happening to it, the shape, color, lighting… etc., detail for detail. From this Bishop gives the reader a new, unseen meaning of an object that is used daily, changing the typewriter into a principality.

The definition of geography (according to www.dictionary.com) is “the arrangement and identification of features of any complex entity and the study of this”, and in general the science takes formations on the earth and generalizes. It is this definition of geography that connects these pieces. She takes the very general look at the picture but then shows the audience the intricate dealing in the smallest views, even digging into the unanswerable. Using the fourth and tenth lessons of geography that Bishop presents before the poems even begin, she’s characterized her poems, from “a description of the Earth’s surface” to the vast questions, of where everything is located or in other words, macro to micro.

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