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Sestina

Sestina

by Elizabeth Bishop

House

Symbol Analysis

The poem takes place inside the house (in the kitchen to be exact), and that house becomes practically its own character in the poem. The house, to put it simply, is missing something. There's a grandmother and her grandchild, and… okay, where are the parents? And why is everyone so bummed? Even though the poem takes place in the kitchen (typically thought of as the warmest, coziest place in the house), there is a distance between grandchild and grandmother here that sets our previous ideas about a happy house and home spinning.

  • Lines 3-4: At first, we're getting the cozy kitchen, family time vibe. 
  • Line 8: Bishop uses "beats" which makes us think of violence. Now the house scene is feeling much less cozy and much more ominous.
  • Line 16: This is a return to the more whimsical side of things. The child imagines the rain dancing on the house, and maybe doesn't feel the threatening vibe to the fullest at this point. 
  • Lines 23-24: Home is supposed to be a place of literal and symbolic warmth, but here we see that it's chilly. On the literal level, the weather obviously has something to do with it, but on the symbolic level it means that maybe there's something sad going on in the house. 
  • Line 27: Rigid is an interesting way to describe a house. Again, we can think of it literally, referring to its structure. But if we think of it figuratively, rigid means strict and inflexible. Totally giving off that cold and icy vibe again. 
  • Lines 35-36: What the child draws looks like a pretty happy scene. Flowers in front of the house seem pleasant, and really highlight the contrast between what she imagines a home to be like, and the cold, chilly house that she's actually living in. 
  • Line 39: Inscrutable? What a word. And again, it's working on two levels. First, the house is hard to make out, because it's a child's drawing and it's probably a little sloppy. But beneath the surface the word inscrutable enhances the mystery of what is exactly wrong with their home. We can tell that something's out of place and sad, but we never find out exactly what it is.
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