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Symbol Analysis

Tears drop their way throughout this poem. They're used both literally—the grandmother cries—and figuratively—to describe the tea, for example. Because they pop up so many times, their meaning and significance constantly changes. It's probably safe to say that grandmother's tears signify sadness, but what about the less literal, more descriptive uses of tears? Though they seem pretty harmless—condensation, coat buttons—they're infused with the idea of sadness from the first mention of the grandmother crying. So while Bishop isn't directly stating, "boohoo this is sooo sad" she paints a pretty gloomy picture with the repeated mention of tears.

  • Line 6: This is the first human action in the poem that we're introduced to, and it really does all the work for setting up a mood of hidden or veiled sadness. 
  • Line 7: This line furthers the mystery behind the grandmother's sadness. It connects the equinox to her crying somehow, which doesn't seem at all like a normal reason for crying. As readers we know she's sad, but we still can't quite put our finger on why. 
  • Line 14: Here the tears turn figurative. They're describing what the condensation on the kettle looks like. It's also through the child's eyes. So while not explicitly sad, this might be Bishop's way of letting us know that though the child isn't exactly aware of the grandmother's crying, she senses the sadness, even if only in the back of her mind. 
  • Line 22: It seems almost like the real tears of the grandmother and the figurative tears on the kettle blend into one description. Pretty cool melding thing that Bishop starts here, and does even more intensely toward the end of the poem. 
  • Line 29: More of the subconscious tear business from the child. Things are getting downright Freudian.
  • Line 33: The tears have moved back into the completely figurative realm. This is also the first instance where neither the grandmother nor the child are involved. Bishop uses this as an opportunity to enhance the gloominess of the scene without using the characters in the poem. 
  • Line 37: Though this last mention might seem a little silly, it's also quite grim. Planting tears makes you think that there will be only more to come. Boohoo to the max.

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