Treasure Island

Elizabeth Bishop

(8 February 1911 – 6 October 1979 / Worcester, Massachusetts)

Sestina


September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the 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.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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Read poems about / on: house, child, september, dance, rain, flower, dark, time, light, children, wind

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  • Perry Collins (12/18/2012 9:21:00 PM)

    once again beautiful, a bit haunting, and so it begins... never mind the choice of words, never mind the syntax, and what the fuck is syntax, there's the old saying expect the worse of people and you'll never be disappointed, i could never figure the how or why of any of this shit, you need to come home she said, what home? I haveg no home, the pain the anguish of knowing it s all for naught, its all gone all of it and what of it? nothing and nothingness, always the cost, never mind the value, and was there any value? now its time to find that place in time, lose the self to he ages asking what do you do when you have done everything.. do it all again, only far better than before..... (Report) Reply

  • J.b. Lebuert (2/28/2012 6:18:00 PM)

    If people only understood the challenges and difficulty of writing a sestina poem then the rating for this great poem would be higher. It is one of the ost difficult structured poems that I have ever attempted. (Report) Reply

  • ilia Altshuler (2/7/2012 6:24:00 AM)

    I think: That the repeating pattern of the words: almanac, stove, house, child, tears, grandmother, suggest that the grand mother and the child are left alone, trapped in a continuous vicious annual circle. the tears suggest the tragic absence of the parents and the grandfather and perhaps the coming death of the grandmother. The last three lines which end with almanac, stove, house, suggest that the only thing that will survive is the house the almanac and the stove - the tears here are symbolical and stand for the more general mourn about the human mortality, (Report) Reply

  • Anessa Buff (1/12/2012 5:12:00 PM)

    It appears to me that the man in the boy's drawing is the grandfather. Since the grandfather does not have a role in the poem, one can assume that the grandfather has passed away. So as to avoid any feelings of pain, the grandmother busies herself about the stove. The poem even states that the laughing and talking have the purpose of hiding the grandmother's tears. (Report) Reply

  • Oliver Hansen (12/22/2011 10:54:00 AM)

    Hello Christina, well it has been nearly four years since your post, but I have an English final soon, and this topic is on the final so I thought I would try my hand at explaining.

    A sestina (or a sestine, sextine, or sextain) is a seven stanza poem, as you may have noticed. The first six stanzas consist of six lines and the last one of three, called an 'envoi.' Something I find really interesting about them is way the last word of each line repeats itself: 'house, tears, child, almanac, stove, and grandmother.' This pattern is traditional in sestinas.


    I feel this poem is about a loving household, where the grandmother cares for the child. They have a good time together and it is mixed with sadness from the grandmother. Maybe it's her mortality or the child's innocence she cries at. (Report) Reply

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