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Questions of Travel
Questions of Travel
by Elizabeth Bishop
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The Clogs and the Birdcage

Symbol Analysis

Ah, the classic clogs and birdcages comparison. Oh wait. These two things couldn't be more different: clogs are shoes, and birdcages are, um, cages for birds. But in "Questions of Travel," Bishop manages to make them work together; the speaker uses both items to illustrate the small pleasures of travel. Sure they're totally different, but that's the point: there are so many different things to see in the great big world out there. Via the clogs and the birdcages, the speaker opens up the possibilities for all the lovely experiences we can have when we're off adventuring.

  • Lines 35-41: The speaker introduces the clogs here. She loves the clack of the clogs on a gas station floor, because each clog makes a slightly different sound. These clogs haven't been "tested" for their clacking sounds, as the speaker imagines they would be in other countries. The level of detail here is nuts—who notices the sounds that clogs make? Such attention to detail tells us a lot about the type of woman the speaker is. 
  • Lines 42-46: Next the speaker thinks about the brown bird and his birdcage that she sees at the same gas station. The birdcage is "baroque"—it's really detailed and ornate. It's weirdly fancy for a gas station, don't you think? Perhaps the speaker identifies with the bird in the cage. She doesn't come out and say that she does, but she spends a whole lot of time describing this cage. Maybe there's more happening in her head than she lets on. 
  • Lines 47-54: The speaker compares the clogs and the birdcage—the "crudest footwear" and the "careful, finicky" "whittled fantas[y]" of the birdcage. These items are so incredibly different, but in the poem, they give the speaker an opportunity to reflect on the centuries filled with strange and disparate objects that have come before her. Objects she could only have seen while traveling. It would have been a pity to have stayed at home and missed this opportunity, she says.