Everything seems just fine on the surface in "Sestina." The grandmother and grandchild are in the kitchen making tea and having an afternoon snack together. Cozy and cute, right? But something is totally off here. The house is cold, and there seems to be all sorts of forces keeping this from being a happy home. Where is the rest of the family? Why is the grandmother so sad? Why is she hiding it? Despite the stove and the tea, everything has a sad chill to it, and we can't help but wonder if this home isn't broken.
It actually is a happy home, it's just a rainy and chilly day. Stop making something out of nothing.
The child has been abandoned by the rest of her family and the grandmother is sad and worried about their future. That's why they're both so down in the dumps.
"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.
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.
Maybe at first it looks like the grandmother and the child are getting along while they're making jokes from the almanac, but we quickly see they're a million miles away from one another. They're the only ones home, and maybe the only two who even live in the house. The grandmother has some secret sadness that she keeps from the child, and the child, probably sensing this sadness and distance from her grandmother, turns to her imaginative drawing to escape the loneliness. Sure, the two seem to get along just fine, but we can't help but feel that they're too far apart from one another to really be a happy family.
They're not lonely! They have each other. Sheesh.
The grandmother's sadness has nothing to do with loneliness. She's bummed about something else entirely.
The turn of the season certainly signals change in "Sestina," as it does just about everywhere else. The weather's changing, the temperature's dropping, and especially through the lens of the grandmother, we get the feeling that some sort of bad mojo is coming down the pike. With all the mentions of the equinox and the almanac, we can also assume there is something in the cosmos that has predicted the change that's about to come, and it ain't necessarily gonna be pretty.
The change happened before the kitchen scene takes place, and that's why the grandmother is sad. But hey, things can't get any worse, right?
The change will be good. You can tell by the laughter in the first stanza.