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by Elizabeth Bishop

Sestina Theme of Time

"Sestina" addresses the passing of time by the change of season. The nifty thing is, in order to show that time moves on, Bishop actually shows us how it's cyclical. So we get the sense (especially from the sad grandmother) that time is moving on, but progress isn't necessarily being made. It's sort of a "no way out" feeling, which is only enhanced by the form of the poem.

Questions About Time

  1. Who do you think the passage of time is more important to: the grandmother or the child? Why? How can you tell?
  2. What subtle ways does Bishop show the passage of time throughout the poem? What do they tell you about what the passage of time means here?
  3. When in the poem does time seem to move in a circle? How does the sestina form enhance the effect? 
  4. What's the big deal? Why should anyone care if time is passing?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The grandmother is freaked out by time passing because she thinks she's going to die soon and abandon the child.

The child is oblivious to the passage of time and goes on drawing happily with her crayons. She's not bummed at all—it's all the grandmother.

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