CHOOSE ONE ASSIGNMENT (A-D). FOLLOWING THE GROUP-WORK EXERCISE IN CLASS ON 8TH OCTOBER 2010, PREPARE TO PRESENT YOUR READING OF THE POEM, AS A GROUP, IN CLASS ON15TH OCTOBER 2010.THEN WRITE IT UP, IN YOUR OWN WORDS AS A SHORT ESSAY. THE ESSAY SHOULD BE NO LONGER THAN 1000 WORDS. THE TITLE SHOULD BE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING:
A) A Materialist Reading of Elizabeth Bishopʼs ʻA Miracle for Breakfastʼ
B) A Psychoanalytic Reading of Elizabeth Bishopʼs ʻSestinaʼ
C) A Structuralist Reading of Elizabeth Bishopʼs ʻThe Mapʼ
D) A Poststructuralist Reading of Elizabeth Bishopʼs ʻOver 2,000 Illustrations and a
PLEASE SUBMIT THIS ESSAY TO ME ONLINE, VIA YOUR E-LEARNING ACCOUNT, BEFORE 29TH OCTOBER 2010.
A) A materialist reading of a poem by Elizabeth Bishop: ʻA Miracle for Breakfastʼ
Written in the 1930s during the Great Depression, it features breadlines of poor
people waiting for a meal.
1.The title suggests the poet will be evoking religion. How can one have a miracle for
breakfast? or is this ironic?
2. What is Bishopʼs attitude to the difference between the rich and the poor?
3. Why does she call the charitable meal a charitable crumb?
4. Why does she compare those about to serve to ʻkings of oldʼ?
5. ʻOne foot of the sun/.... river.ʼ Why refer to Christ walking on water here and why in a humorous manner?
6. What is the attitude of the waiting people to towards the rich man in the next two
stanzas? What does Bishop seem to think of him?
7. What are the two final stanzas about? A fantasy of some kind? What does the speaker fantasize about?
8. How do you interpret the final two lines? What does Bishop mean by ʻthe miracle was working on the wrong balconyʼ?
9. Utopianism is a positive term in Marxist thinking. It describes when people yearn beyond the limits capitalism imposes on them and imagine a world in which human desires and needs would be addressed rather than curtailed for the sake of giving a minority of the population excessive amounts of wealth. How might the poem be said to be utopian?
A MIRACLE FOR BREAKFAST
At six o'clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
--like kings of old, or like a miracle.
It was still dark. One foot of the sun
steadied itself on a long ripple in the river.
The first ferry of the day had just crossed the river.
as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony.
Elizabeth Bishop B) A psychoanalytic reading of ʻSestinaʼ by Elizabeth Bishop
Written about the experience of trauma and its aftermath.
1. Why is the poem called ʻSestinaʼ? Is it a poetic form? What are itʼs characteristics?
2. Why would Bishop choose to write about trauma in such a poetic form?
3. Study the poem and note the transformations that key repeated words undergo.. How do ʻtearsʼ especially change?
4. The boundary between inside and outside is important as a measure of oneʼs ability to regulate oneʼs own internal affective states. Victims of trauma have trouble with such regulation. How does the poem record disturbances in that boundary?
5. What does the grandmother represent?
6. What does she try to provide the child?
7. An almanac is a book farmers used to predict weather among other things. How is its predictive ability important as a metaphor of healing in the poem?
8. How does the child start to repair the wound caused by trauma?
9. How might it be seen as a way of gaining control over her emotion?
10.How also is it a way of internalizing the care the grandmother seeks to provide?
11.Stanza 6 has an interesting image that is like the act of internalization. Something
outside is moved inside. The moons from the almanac enter the childʼs art? Why is it
important that they are moons and that they come from the almanac? And why are they like ʻtearsʼ? What is their relation to the childʼs suffering?
12.What is the significance of the line ʻtime to plant tearsʼ? And why is it said by the
13. One power that both art and poetry have is to transform literal things into metaphors.Notice the metaphors in the last stanza. How might they be connected to the therapeutic action of art?
C) A structuralist reading of Elizabeth Bishopʼs The Map
A structuralist approach to literature treats words as signs. In The Map Bishop thinks
about the relationship between the signs we make to represent the world and the actual world itself. Her strategy is to take real things to be signs and signs to be real things. The opening line - ʻLand lies in water; it is shadowed greenʼ - is a description of a map as if it were the real world. A sign becomes a thing in Bishopʼs rendering. Notice how she personifies land; it ʻliesʼ as if it were taking a rest. That it is ʻshadowed greenʼ takes the coloration of the map literally, as if in the real world the map colour green actually exists. In the next line, she makes the playful confusion of literal and semiotic or literal and metaphoric more explicit. Note the rhyme (ʻshadow,ʼ ʻshallowʼ) that also confuses a map sign (shadows - shallows) with a real thing, and treats that map itself as if it might not be a cluster of signs but instead the real world it supposedly represents.
1. Go through the rest of the poem and look for other instances of such deliberate
confusion of sign and thing.
2. Why does Bishop draw our attention to this rather playful problem? ( a map-maker is charged with making as accurate an image of the world as possible. This attitude is scientific , objective, cool. Notice places in the poem where the project of objective
representation is mocked or called into question.
3. What are some other attitudes toward the natural world? What alternate way of being in the world does the poem depict? Note Bishopʼs use of words like ʻstrokeʼ (ʻWe can stroke these lovely baysʼ). A mapmaker would not be interested in whether a bay is ʻlovelyʼ and he certainly would not be interested in stroking it...(Can we stroke a bay?)
4. What role does emotion play in the poem? Romantic poets thought of nature as
something that inspired strong emotions. Bishop is quite anti-Romantic in temperament; her preferred mode is much more ironic. How does she mock the Romantic conception of nature?
5. Some would argue all representations of the world are plagued by values and
perspectives. A map is always still the mapmakerʼs map. His perspective is evident in the choices he makes regarding what signs to use. Objectivity itself is a perspective. And all representation entails a choice of signs (blue or red, large or small, etc.) How does Bishop deal with these issues?
6. Some feel that nature should be exploited as much as possible economically. Others think it should be preserved and respected. Which position does Bishop seem to embrace in the poem?
Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?
The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador's yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.
Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves' own conformation:
and Norway's hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North's as near as West.
More delicate than the historians' are the map-makers' colors.
A poststructuralist reading of ʻOver 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordanceʼ This is about an illustrated Bible which contains modern photographs of Middle Eastern scenes. The Bible, as a story about God and humanity, contends that the real world is actually just a metaphor or symbol whose meaning is spiritual. Behind the physical universe is a spiritual one. The literal physical world itself is just an illusion, or even an illustration.
1. What does Bishopʼs attitude to this idea seem to be?
2. If the poem is about the two contending philosophic positions described above – with one favouring absolute foundational truth and the other emphasizing the flow of
experience through space and time without any transcendental foundation - which one do you think Bishop favours in the poem?
3. Notice how she begins with reference to things that might be as ponderous as
foundational truth - the Seven Wonders of the World. She mentions travels she has
taken and says they should have been like the Bible, ʻserious, engravable.ʼ Yet ordinary travels do not attain the stature of biblical seriousness. She notes that the images of the Seven Wonders in the illustrated Bible are a ʻtouch familiar.ʼ That would seem to imply they have lost some of their original meaning or significance. Is this the same for the other illustrations?
4. Note too that the idea of a spiritual world depends still on something physical – being engraved. What are some of the implications of this? How does engraving work in the poem? (Is it not a somewhat forceful kind of writing? and we have noticed that Derrida associates writing with the principle of difference - that all things spiritual or self-identical or transcendental are in the end lodged in physical reality. They are contingent and historical, rather than eternal and extra-worldly.... Engraving seems to ensure the enduring permanence of the ideas of the Bible, but does it also undermine them?
5. Her tone is mocking at times. The Arabs in one photograph, she suggests, might be plotting against ʻour Christian Empire.ʼ... How might Christianity be imperial in other ways than simply military? Crusaders did of course literally return to the Middle East to convert it from an Arab homeland into a ʻHoly Landʼ. Think about how there are two kinds of imperialism at work there. One is military and physical - taking someone elseʼs land by force. The other has to do with language and meaning, even with capital letters. How is it imperial to convert someoneʼs pasture or backyard into ʻthe Tomb, the Pit, the Sepulcherʼ? How is a change of meaning imperial? Could transforming a backyard or a pasture into a ʻTombʼ lead to the first kind of imperialism?...
6. Why the final remark about Khadour, probably their guide, ʻlooking amusedʼ? Why might he be amused?
7. The first line of the third stanza repeats the view that there is an endless flow of
experience and life through time and space, a flow that never can be converted to a
transcendental meaning or truth that stands outside the flow. Everything in such a world would be connected with ʻandʼ and ʻandʼ. Such a world couldnʼt be considered to be an ʻillustrationʼ of a spirit world that stands behind it, or of a spiritual truth. With these ideas in mind, how would you interpret the stanza?
8. Any other comments about the poem?
Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance Thus should have been our travels: