Not Everything is as it Seems
There is almost always more to a person or object than what meets the eye. The kindest of people can be the most hurt or angry. A place could be more or less beautiful than people think. Some situations are different than what is being explained. People have different views of different things. It all depends on a person’s perspective. Poet Elizabeth Bishop is a poet that plays with the perspectives of her audience within her poems to make readers think more like her. To see things as they are and as they could be.
Her poem “Florida” is a prime example of how a place such as Florida, which most people consider a place of natural beauty or a paradise, is not the same for everyone. To her, Florida is
held together by mangrove roots
that bear while living oysters in clusters,
and when dead strew white swamps with skeletons,
dotted as if bombarded, with green hummocks
like ancient cannon-balls sprouting grass (Lines 3–7).
Bishop sees Florida as a place where nature is cruel to the wildlife and is almost a dirty place. When reading the poem, we receive a glimpse into Bishop’s head. We see the buzzards looking for the remains of the dead, the helpless turtles dying on the shore, the cold and harsh of the night. We see a natural cruelty in a place regarded as a beautiful paradise for vacations. However, both views of the same place hold truth. Nature can be cruel, but it fosters life within its sturdy hands. Florida is a beautiful state if a person holds the correct perspective.
One of Bishop’s other poems, entitled “In the Waiting Room” is of a childhood memory of reading a National Geographic magazine while in a waiting room of a dentist office. She was waiting for her aunt when
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
— Aunt Consuelo’s voice–
not very loud or long. (Lines 36–39).
Bishop quickly revealed that it was not her aunt that said “oh” but Bishop herself. Bishop then delved into her embarrassment she felt from a noise that no one else had noticed. She felt that the situation was worse than it was because she found her action foolish. The rest of her poem showed a shift in her own perception about herself, and about the place she was at before she ultimately reminded herself where she was. This poem is a prime example of how easily our views on anything, including ourselves can change, by even the smallest of actions. Raindrops create ripples in water in the same manner that our actions can shape our life.
Bishop’s poem “A Miracle for Breakfast” is a poem about her seemingly begging for food and coffee in the morning under the balcony of a more well-off person. She was looking at the man of the house, hoping for him to be charitable, and noting that he was not what she hoped. He gave small, hard crumbs of bread and small droplets of coffee for those in need. Bishop seemingly put herself in the place of the man that had the coffee and bread, imagining herself as him, drinking gallons of coffee and eating all of her bread in the morning. She once again, changed her perspective of her situation, and in her own mind, she behaved seemingly selfishly rather than giving false hope and kindness. In the final lines of her poem, Bishop wrote, “A window across the river caught the sun, as if the miracle were working, on the wrong balcony” (Lines 38–39). Their purpose seems to be that despite the distasteful way Bishop was treated where she was begging for food, maybe, just maybe, she could have the same that the man did someday.
Situations are never as they seem. In order to find the truth or meaning of something, one must be willing to change their perspective. This is a message that Bishop was trying to highlight in her poems. Rather than staying steadfast to her own perspective, Bishop jumped to others, or even changed hers entirely. She sets an example that we as an audience need to follow. However, many of us may not take the initiative to try.