Sonnet Elizabeth Bishop Analysis

Decent Essays

Close Reading of ‘Sonnet’ by Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, ‘Sonnet’ bears little resemblance to its namesake at first glance. Bishop plays with our expectations, molding the well-known sonnet form into something new. She transforms the meter and rhyme scheme of the sonnet to the point of metamorphosis, but she retains the skeletal structure of the form; fourteen lines broken down into the customary octave and sestet. Her invocation and subsequent subversion of the anticipated poetic form provide her with a baseline to branch off from and without that context, the structure would not have the same effect on the poem’s meaning.
The structure of the first line sets the tone for the octave. Bishop begins in media ras with ‘Caught’ (l. 1) but immediately undercuts that momentum with an em dash. This structure manifests the instability of the poem which is then picked up by words such as ‘level’ (l. 2), ‘wobbling and wavering’ (l. 5), ‘bevel’ (l. 11), and ‘wherever’ (l. 13). This is just the first example of structure reinforcing meaning in ‘Sonnet’
‘Caught’ (l. 1) also introduces the central theme of freedom and confinement. We see the confinement motif play out in the octave with enclosed imagery such as the ‘bubble’ (l. 1) or even the ‘compass’ (l. 4). However, instead of explicitly introducing contrast into the first part of the poem, Bishop structures the sonnet as a progression, first focusing on confinement before moving to freedom. The sonnet as a progression

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