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American Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop

Trying to reduce her sentiments into the confined language of Imagism would have lost a great deal of the subtext, where a great deal of her meaning resides. It is through these devices that the life of the poet emerges, making statements of alienation, isolation and frustration even while discussing something as innocuous-seeming as the moon. Not scrimping on the use of extended metaphors to express her ideas, Bishop is a master of the lyrical phrase. By looking at poems such as “The Man-Moth,” “The Fish,” “Filling Station” and “Pink Dog,” one can get a sense of how the use of adjectives within her poetry provides Bishop with the power to capture life experiences in allegorical settings.“The Man-Moth” is actually a poem that arose out of a misprint in the New York Times for the word “mammoth.” (Rzepka, 2001). For Bishop, this was a perfect example of the New York persona and an irresistible opportunity to poke a little fun at The Big Apple. Despite the teasing tone of the piece, with such phrases as “when the Man-Moth / pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface” (9-10) and “The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way / and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed” (29-30), this poem provides a glimpse into the postmodern feelings of isolation and alienation that had become associated with the big cities of the modern world. Here, the Man-Moth “cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards” (32) and “does not dare look out the window” (36). Through this descriptive language, she indicates the motion of individuals trapped within the city’s subways and patterns are not traveling forward, yet are not exactly traveling backwards either.

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