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by Elizabeth Bishop

Sestina Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. What do you think the grandmother is so sad about? What could be going on behind the scenes? 
  2. The sestina form of the poem means we get to hear a lot of repetition. What happens to the words as they're repeated? Do they start to mean different things? Do they become more important? Do they mean the same thing every time? Do they become nonsense (like when we say the words "toy boat" ten times fast)?
  3. What effect do the inanimate objects (the almanac or the stove, for example) have when they come to life? Is it cartoonish? Psychedelic? Metaphorical? All of the above? 
  4. How aware is the child of everything that's going on around her? Do you think the picture she draws is related to her home life? How might it be?
  5. What actions go on in this poem? We start in the kitchen and end in the kitchen. Do you get a sense of progress or movement, or does everything seem to stand still, as though frozen in time?

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