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Elizabeth Bishop Roosters Essay, Research Paper

Throughout history, poets have existed to create works that spark emotions from their readers. One poet in particular, who virtually mastered this technique, was Elizabeth Bishop. Born in 1911, Bishop grew to be a well-known poet. Her works gained national attention, and her writing style brought her fame.

Elizabeth Bishop was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1911. She began her young life in New England, and later moved to Nova Scotia in Canada after her father died and her mother was committed. After basic education, Bishop attended Vassar College in the state of New York. Bishop met Mary McCarthy, and they worked together on a literary magazine while attending Vassar called Con Spirito. Bishop graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1934. After graduating, Bishop pursued her literary career and became wealthy as a result. Due to the overwhelming popularity of her first publication, North and South, Bishop edited and re-released it. With the publication’s new makeover, the popularity increased earning Bishop the Nobel Prize for Poetry in 1956.

Bishop’s works were extensive and thought provoking. Although many of her publications were magazine submissions (The New Yorker), Bishop released different collections of her poems. Questions of Travel (1965) focused on many of the settings she saw and felt while living in Brazil. Brazil (1967) was a travel book of poems about Brazil’s surroundings. An Anthology of 20th Century Brazilian Poetry (1972) is exactly what it labels, Brazilian poetry. Geography III (1976) was her last collection of poems that earned her the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bishop died from a cerebral aneurysm in Boston on October 6, 1979.

Due to Bishop’s magnificent following of readers, her poems have survived over twenty years after her death. There are many poems that carry an underlying meaning, and one of Bishop’s in particular is Roosters. Roosters, is a poem of uncertainty and power. The poem addresses the Bible story of Peter’s denial that he was a disciple of Jesus Christ. Jesus told Peter that by the time the rooster crows, Peter would deny any knowledge of Jesus three times. As the evening passed, three times Peter was questioned about Jesus and three times he denied Jesus’ existence.

Roosters starts off with a description of the surroundings and atmosphere. The setting develops a gloomy and dark arena for the reader to delve into:

At four o’clock

in the gun-metal blue dark

we hear the first crow of the first cock

just below

the gun-metal blue window

and immediately there is an echo

off in the distance,

then one from the backyard fence,

then one, with horrible insistence,

grates like a wet match

from the broccoli patch,

flares, and all over town begins to catch.

The different uses of adjectives maintain the obscurity of the scene. The narrator seems annoyed by the continuous crowing of the rooster first thing in the morning. By wanting to put an end to the crowing, he/she views the dark and the window as “gun-metal blue”. It appears, if the narrator was fully awake, they would shoot the rooster to keep him from crowing. In response, an echo of other roosters rang out across town. The narrator expresses his/her feelings of disgust by stating, “with horrible insistence”. The annoyance carries on, as the roosters’ chests “planned to command and terrorize the rest”.

Bishop begins to illustrate the awkward usage of a “stupid” icon like the rooster:

over our beds

from rusty iron sheds

and fences made from old bedsteads,

over our churches

where the tin rooster perches,

over our little wooden northern houses,

making sallies

from all the muddy alleys,

marking out maps like Rand McNally’s:

glass-headed pins,

oil-golds and copper greens,

anthracite blues, alizarins,

each one an active

displacement in perspective;

each screaming, “This is where I live!”

Bishop questions the roosters, “what are you projecting?” These feeble minded creatures that have seemed to always be placed with admirable statistics. The roosters, “whom the Greeks elected/to shoot at on a post, who struggled/when sacrificed,” are seen as “Very combative?”. The anger of the narrator is further expressed, “what right have you to give/commands and tell us how to live,” questioning the true nature of a rooster’s existence. The hatred towards the rooster escalates to the point of killing it out of spite:

And one has fallen,

but still above the town

his torn-out, bloodied feathers drift down;

and what he sung

no matter. He is flung

on the gray ash-heap, lies in dung

with his dead wives

with open, bloody eyes,

while those metallic feathers oxidize.

The “gun-metal blue” held the meaning as entailed in the beginning of the poem. What was once an annoyance for the narrator, quickly became a solution to his/her problems. With a quick shot, the rooster lay dead.

Making sure to not end the poem on a bad note, Bishop carried on to share a time in history where the rooster played an important role. In a reference to the gospels of the Bible, Bishop introduced the denial of the disciple Peter. The basic overview of the story started when Jesus Christ predicted that Peter would deny his knowledge of Christ three times before the cock (rooster) crowed. As the story proceeded, Peter denied any knowledge of Christ: not once, not twice, but three times. After the third denial, a rooster crowed and Peter remembered Jesus’ prediction. Yet even after denial, Christ forgave. With this new notion set in the narrator’s mind, he/she reluctantly begins to forgive the roosters for crowing:

that even the Prince

of the Apostles long since

had been forgiven, and to convince

all the assembly

that “Deny deny deny”

is not all the roosters cry.

Even after forgiveness, the narrator cannot undo the senseless killing that had cost the rooster its life. Emotion has settled to sadness, “how could the night have come to grief?” Even though the day was overwhelming, the narrator has made it to the end of the day in a somewhat peaceful setting. The day ends with something the narrator can count on, “The sun climbs in,/following “to see the end,”/faithful as enemy, or friend.” The phrase “As sure as the sun shall rise”, could easily be changed in this case to “As sure as the sun shall set.”

Elizabeth Bishop started writing poetry as an icon in the industry of creativity. Her poems still hold true today and will still hold true in the future. There may be a day that Bishop’s works will no longer be considered “contemporary”. However, as long as there is a published copy of her works, they’ll always be considered “classics”.


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