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Sestina

Sestina

by Elizabeth Bishop

Stanza 5 Summary

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

Lines 25-26

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.

  • What? Since when can a stove and an almanac talk? Then again, if a teakettle can sing and rain can dance, we guess we should have seen this coming. Now, our poem is diving into the imaginary world full steam ahead. Forget personification; this is full on anthropomorphism
  • Even more curious than the fact that objects are talking is what they say. It seems like they know the grandchild and the grandmother very well, and we can't quite put our finger on how they all know each other. 
  • Both of these comments ("It was to be" and "I know what I know") bring us back to that feeling in line 9 that something was fated to happen. By "fated" we mean beyond human control, planned by some higher force. We feel like these are things that a lady with a crystal ball might say—kind of vague and cryptic, but somehow certain.
  • Also, if you think about it, this is the most humorous moment in the poem. When the stove and the almanac get lines, things almost start to seem a little cartoonish. It's like a moment in a Disney movie when flowers start to sing, clocks have mustaches and British accents, and brooms can dance.

Lines 27-28

With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child

  • Suddenly, we're back to reality. How did that happen? The child is having her afternoon snack and doing a little crayon drawing. 
  • Interestingly, she's drawing a house. But not just any house—a rigid house. The word "rigid" makes the house she's drawing sound like a very serious house, not a cheery one.
  • Could the child be drawing the house she is sitting in at this moment? 
  • Mirrors. We talked about the scene outside reflecting the scene inside and vice versa. The drawing is kind of like that too. The kid is inside drawing what a house might look like from the outside (or from the girl's mind, for that matter). Our perspective is constantly changing throughout this poem.

Lines 29-30

puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

  • New character alert! The child adds a man with a coat with tear-shaped buttons into her drawing. More tears? Sheesh. This is a mopey poem.
  • She shows it to her grandmother because she thinks it's good and she's proud of what she drew.
  • The child seems to have been unaware of her grandmother's tears, but now they're showing up in her drawing, so maybe she noticed these tears in some small way.
  • Who is this man? Is he teary-eyed? If the child is drawing the house that she and the grandmother are currently chilling in, then this man is probably not some random dude. Perhaps he is the source of the grandmother's tears? Perhaps, he is someone who shares the grandmother's sadness. Perhaps he is the child's father or brother. Maybe he's gone?
  • This moment in the poem is another brief moment of interaction between the kid and her grandma. Most of the time, these two seem as distant as ever, even though they're in the very same kitchen. But here, there's a moment of connection.
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