by Elizabeth Bishop
Stanza 2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
- Vocab alert: equinoctial means happening near or at the time of the equinox. The equinox occurs twice a year and has to do with the tilt of the earth and its relationship to the sun.
- So the grandmother thinks her crying has something to do with the time of year. This sounds a bit strange, but a lot of people who believe in the zodiac (horoscopes, etc.) believe the earth's relationship to the sun can affect a person's mood.
- And the almanac is just the kind of thing that might have information about the celestial world (the stars, planets, and outer space). The grandmother seems to think so, at least, as the speaker tells us that the grandmother thinks the almanac predicted both her tears and the rain.
- How could the almanac predict the rain and her crying? Well, if the almanac is made up of facts from the past, maybe all of this was predicted by history. It's a strange connection to make, but that's what grandma seems to think.
but only known to a grandmother.
- Line 10 helps us figure out what's going on in the previous line. In other words, only those who have lived the past (like the grandmother and not the child) know what the almanac is predicting or foretelling.
- This line also does something that happens throughout the poem—the zooming out into the grand scheme of things (in this case the almanac, or all of history) to the zooming in on the specific things (the personal—grandma, the child, the little house).
- This line gives a sense of secrecy to the grandmother's crying. If the line were, "but only known to grandmothers," we'd know that this information is shared by a community of women or by humans at a certain point in life.
- But instead, a single grandmother holds this information, heightening the sense of loneliness and secrecy. It's as if only she can figure out the parts of the almanac that pertain to her.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,
- The water is boiling, but our speaker describes this in a much cooler way. The fact that the kettle sings makes us feel like the kettle is alive. It's alive
- Suddenly, through figurative language, the kitchen is animated.
- The grandmother is making a snack for the child, and is about to say something. What, we'll have to find out in a moment, but the takeaway here is that we've moved back to and zoomed in on a seemingly simple domestic scene again. We can hear, smell, see, and taste the setting—thanks for the imagery, Liz.
- Before we move onto the next stanza, there are a few patterns we can't resist pointing out. All the words at the ends of the lines in stanza 2 are the same as the end-words of stanza 1, just in a different order. When you put that together with the fact that the stanzas are all six lines long, that means, ladies and gentlemen, that we have ourselves a sestina. And hey, isn't that the title?
- Yep. Sure is. So be sure to check out our "What's Up with the Title?" and "Form and Meter" sections for the lowdown on this poetic form.
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