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Filling Station

Filling Station

by Elizabeth Bishop

Stanza 6 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 34-35

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,

  • It seems like our speaker is being overly obvious here. Duh, somebody embroidered the doily, or it wouldn't have a flower pattern on it. Duh, somebody waters the plant, or it wouldn't be alive.
  • But it's not so much about stating the obvious as it is about the speaker being in awe that people are actually taking care of this dirty place. The repetition of "somebody" makes us really feel the speaker's amazement and emotion, as if she's emphasizing each word as she speaks.
  • What she's actually doing, though, is bringing all of these seemingly inanimate objects to life, by mentioning that they've had human contact and care. 
  • This brings us back to the home thing that's been reappearing in this poem. Our speaker has spent the better part of the poem describing the things in this place, but the people, not the things, make a home; now, in the second to last stanza, she's bringing our focus back to human beings. 
  • Because as dirty as this station may be, there are still human beings living in it, and that's what matters most.

Lines 36-37

or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans

  • In line 36 she's still poking fun at the greasiness of the place. We know, of course that the plant isn't oiled because it's alive. But this line is here to remind us of how grimy the whole scene is. 
  • Still, there's an acknowledgement of care here. The speaker knows that as gross as this place is, it's lived in and loved.
  • She continues on with this "somebody" repetition. Even the rows of oil cans take on a personal importance toward the end of the poem. Stay tuned to see why.

Lines 23-39

so that they softly say:
ESSO-SO-SO-SO

  • The image of these lines is that of oil cans all lined up in a row. You can read the full label on the first one: ESSO. But the other cans' labels are obscured by the cans next to them, so the ES half of the logo is cut off, leaving only SO. 
  • In a poem without much figurative language, the imagery and metaphor in this line pack a big punch. We learn that the cans are speaking, which is a classic example of personification.
  • And the visual image is mixed with an auditory one, resulting in a weird kind of synesthesia here. We're looking at the cans, but we're hearing them, too. 
  • And check out that adverb: softly. Well, that's a surprise. This poem started out on a pretty harsh and critical note. Now it seems like the speaker has a "soft" spot for this place. 
  • The sound the cans make is a very soft, whisper-like, and soothing sound. This filling station is starting to seem like a cozy place, rather than a depressing one. Those cans are straight up welcoming.

Lines 40-41

to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

  • Line 40 is super-clever, and classic sneaky Bishop. Oil literally lubricates car engines, but generally being high strung isn't their problem. That word makes us think of uptight people who need to loosen up—like, maybe, the speaker at the beginning of the poem. Here, our speaker is saying that this little whispering, "esso-so-so" sound soothes the cars. 
  • This moment of personification gives the filling station some personal significance. It has an important job (soothing engines).
  • So while this may just be a grimy gas station, it's also a place of relief, and a necessary one at that. 
  • The last line seems to come out of nowhere. What does oil fixing rusty engines have to do with love? 
  • Well, we've been tracking this whole human/family element for a while, and we think the gist here is that somebody cares enough to put furniture on the porch, enough to place a doily down, and to water the plant. They even care enough to arrange the oilcans in such a way that they soothe drivers and cars. 
  • But who is this person? Based on these details, it seems like that it's an off screen woman—maybe the man's wife and the sons' mother? Wherever she is, its clear that she has contributed a lot to this home. And if she's gone for good, her memory certainly lingers. 
  • And that presence reminds the speaker that there's someone like that for everyone. Someone's out there to take care of us all—even if we're living in grimy gas stations.
  • Yep, even in this grimy filling station, there seems to be a happy home, and ultimately, enough love to go around.

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