Study Guide

Filling Station Analysis

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Nothing's up with the title, really. Sorry to rain on your parade. But the fact of the matter is, Bishop often titles her poems after their main subject. This poem is about a filling station, so she titles it, "Filling Station."

    A filling station is a place where people when to get gas or their oil changed in their car. Although this title is pretty straightforward, it's interesting that Bishop chose to call it "Filling Station" rather that "The Filling Station," because she goes to such great lengths to describe the individuality of the place, and each minute detail. It seems to us by the end of the poem that this isn't just any old filling station, but a particular one that has caught the poet's eye. But hey, it just might have more universal applications, so maybe that's why she dropped the article.

    Or maybe she just forgot.

  • Setting

    Surprise, surprise, this one's set in a filling (read: gas) station. And no, the setting does not shift at all during the course of the poem. In fact, this poem is entirely structured around setting. It's pretty much the most important thing we can pay attention to.

    Where this filling station is—a city, the country, a foreign country—is impossible to say; when this poem takes place might be easier to estimate. We're betting it's probably before huge chains of car service stations started popping up. This is not a truck stop on the Interstate, complete with fourteen bathroom stalls—one for each kind of soda they have at the fountain. But we don't really know that either.

    In fact, all that seems to matter to Bishop for this particular poem, is that we're transported to this particularly greasy, family-run filling station, and that we don't move a muscle until the poem is finished painting its endearing, albeit grimy, portrait of the place. We get every detail, and no generalizations.

  • Speaker

    The speaker in this poem is a persistent observer. Seriously, this person, whoever it is, takes a long, hard look at this filling station, and spares us no details. She's practically Sherlockian in her observation skills.

    She is also a little opinionated, if not downright judgmental. If we hear ewwwww, it's soooooo dirty again, we might just put her on a timeout for rudeness. But despite how nasty the speaker thinks the filling station is, she seems to be intrigued enough to look further into the place. She's not quite ready to write it off yet, so she checks out the porch, the doily, and other signs of home life.

    By the end of the poem, while the speaker hasn't totally abandoned the "icky" rant, she has warmed slightly toward the place, and can see that there's some love underneath all that grit and grime. Which is nice, because it makes us feel like all in all, we're in pretty good hands with the speaker. She misses absolutely nothing, and takes us through each greasy moment.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    Bishop doesn't lead us too far into the woods in this poem. We're pretty stationary the whole time. As long as you're willing to dig past the first layer of grease to investigate the potential home life of this family and notice how the speaker (despite herself) seems eventually to be moved, you're going to be just fine.

  • Calling Card

    No Stone Left Unturned

    Bishop isn't one to gloss over details. If you're looking for a poem to take you on a magic carpet ride, swooping for a moment over mountaintops, then quickly turning toward the coastline, you're reading the wrong poet. Bishop is a poet of patience, persistence, and immaculate detail.

    She has the ability to make a specific, even seemingly uninteresting place, come to life in 30-40 lines. She does this by describing every detail, unrelentingly. If she were a painter, she'd be the master of the still life. While a picture of a bowl of fruit might sound like a snooze at first, in the hands of a skilled artist, given the proper attention to texture and light, that stationary bowl of fruit can really come to life in a riveting way. Bishop has the same skill—with words. She makes us stop and study what we might ordinarily never give a second glance.

  • Form and Meter

    Free Verse

    This poem doesn't follow any formal guidelines. But Bishop does like to keep things tidy.

    The poem is made up of six stanzas, all of six or seven lines each (except for the last stanza, which has eight). You'll notice the lines are all pretty much the same length too; there are no super-short lines, and no lines dragging to the end of the page. So when we look at the page, we get a sense of organization, even if there are no formal rules at work.

    And yet. These patterns are worth examining… 

    Line Length:

    Bishop keeps the lines relatively uniform and short. It's a very descriptive poem, with relatively little action, so perhaps she does this to keep the poem rolling, without getting bogged down with heavy, long lines that might slow things down too much. It also gives the poem a kind of listy feel, which reminds us that were reading details of description, rather than a narrative of some sort.


    That's a fancy poetry term for a repeated word or phrase, especially at the beginning of a series of lines. Bishop uses "somebody" toward the end of the poem to establish a rhythmic pattern, and to get a little sound engine going to blast us toward the end of the poem. After about the second "somebody" our ears are perked up and we're paying very close attention to those final lines. She got us hooked.

  • Their Oily Home

    For the speaker of "Filling Station," oil is straight up gross. At the station, it covers just about everything—including the people. But as we move through the poem, all that grease and grime gradually gives way to images of the home, which, though oil-soaked, are no less domestic. That, dear friends, is little thing we like to call juxtaposition. By juxtaposing the oil-soaked stuff of the station with the cozier images of doilies and dogs, Bishop reminds us that a home can be made in even the unlikeliest of places.

    • Lines 1-3: Ladies and gentlemen, this place is a straight up oily, greasy mess. That's the takeaway here. There's literally not a single surface in this station that hasn't been grime-ified. 
    • Lines 7-8: Here's the first juxtaposition of homey comforts and a greasy mess. This man's clothes—his clothes!—are covered with grease. Bummer, dude.
    • Lines 9-10: The sons are dirty, too, but hey, at least they're family.
    • Line 12: All right already, speaker. We get it. This joint is a dump.
    • Line 15: Around the middle of the poem, things start taking a turn for the cozy. At least in a relative sense. Here the speaker notes that the station has a porch, which could be a sign that these folks call this place home.
    • Lines 19-20: Aw. No home's a home without a puppy. Even if the dog is dirty, at least he's a sign of domestic bliss… or something.
    • Lines 21: Comic books are a sure sign of kids, or at least, young men. This line gives us the sense that these guys may have grown up in this filling station. 
    • Lines 27: The begonia may not be blooming, but it looks well cared for at least. We're betting this bit of green shines bright in the gray surroundings of the station.
  • Questions

    The speaker only asks four questions in the poem, but they sure do pack a punch.

    • Line 14: When the speaker wonders if these folks live in the station, she sets herself apart from them. We know from this question that she's an outside observer, looking in at their lives. That tells us that this poem is a whole lot of guess work and not much else. 
    • Lines 28-30: These questions reveal just how in the dark the speaker is about these people's lives. She can't even fathom why in the world they have a doily draped over a table. It's as if she's really asking, "when you live in a grease-caked dump like this, why bother decorating?"
    • Steaminess Rating


      Not even close to steamy.