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by Elizabeth Bishop

Stanza 3 Summary

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

Lines 13-15

It's time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle's small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,

  • Ah! Some dialogue. Although there aren't any quotation marks here, we know the grandma's talking because of line 12. She's not saying anything all that interesting here, but at least we know what time of day it is—tea time, or late afternoon.
  • But there's a bit of a problem: the child is distracted by the condensed steam dripping on the stove. Once again the teakettle seems to be alive, seems to be almost human—it has tears, which is a sure sign of personification.
  • We can't help but notice that both the grandmother and the teakettle have tears. It's a bit unusual for an old lady to have something in common with a teakettle, but hey, this is a strange poem. 
  • Even though we've been in the same room the whole time, things are heating up (so to speak). In line 11 the kettle sang, now the tears are dancing. The grandmother and the child might not be chatting up a storm, but the objects in the kitchen are certainly making some noise. 
  • Maybe, it's like when you are in a room with someone, and neither of you has much to say at that moment—suddenly, you really notice the sounds around you, hoping to fill up the awkward silence.

Line 16

the way the rain must dance on the house.

  • Bishop compares the way the droplets on the stove dance to the way the rain is falling on the house. Just like the teakettle sings or like its steam droplets dance, the rain also dances. The rain is similarly portrayed as having human qualities in a moment of personification.
  • Water, water everywhere. So far, we can connect the rain to the steam droplets, and we can connect the steam droplets to the actual tears. 
  • Zoom. This line (along with line 15) zooms into the specific, microscopic details (like the tea kettle), and they also pan out to encompass the weather and the outside world. 
  • This zooming in and out is pretty cool and contributes to the constant movement that we feel in the poem.

Lines 17-18

Tidying up, the old grandmother 
hangs up the clever almanac

  • The grandmother is cleaning up and puts the almanac away. Looks like teatime's over, folks. 
  • Bishop describes the almanac as clever, which catches our attention and makes us (once again) feel like an object is actually alive and human. She's so fond of personification in this poem.
  • By describing a book as clever, we can't help but think that the book has a brain and has powers (remember how it "foretold" grandma's tears?). Or maybe the almanac is simply "clever" because it is the source of their jokes.

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