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Text analysis of poetic fragment--"Roosters" by Elizabeth Bishop

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Isabel Castelao-Gomez

on 13 July 2015

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Transcript of Text analysis of poetic fragment--"Roosters" by Elizabeth Bishop

form content
theory &
the poem
the author
cultural/literary context

This author was influenced by the modernist poet Marianne Moore and her experimental poetry that focused in detail on minor elements of reality or small animals. However, Bishop belonged to the American literary generation influenced by World War II. She shared the objective experimentation of modernists and the denouncing spirit of contemporary poets.

The narrative poetic voice in the first four stanzas of the poem describes the impact of the roosters’ crow at dawn on a small town, while the reader awaits for the story to unfold.
The stanzaic structure of the poem (in tercets) provides visual order and verticality, illustrating the theme of authority and tradition. The different line lengths and the spaces signal fragmentation and aggression. The color “gun-metal blue” describes the night and the window, creating a mood of coldness in the domestic environment of the farm, to which the reader has been introduced by carefully chosen lexis (window, backyard fence, broccoli patch, town). There is no much figurative language since the fragment is descriptive, however, we encounter darkness and light (dawn) in rough contrast with “match, flares” and the implicit fire in the last line as metaphors of violence in the quiet everyday life setting.

dentify GENRE /

The reader is awaken into the scene through allusions to “the first crow” “echo” “grate” “begins to catch”; a sound in crescendo from the silent “four o’clock”. The rhythmic repetition of two-beat (first line) and two three-beat lines in each stanza makes the poem sound like a fable or fairy tale. The tercets have regular (2,4) and irregular rhyme (1,3). The words at the end of every line are visually and aurally charged, and the alternation between line-ends and enjambments in fact creates syntactic parallelism in lines 4 and 7. The device of anaphora in lines 8 and 9 emphasizes the repetition of story-telling oral narrative.
This fragment belongs to the poem “Roosters” written by Elizabeth Bishop in 1940.
Bishop was an American poet writing during the decades previous and following World War II, a historical event of the twentieth century that changed Western cultural perspectives and society. She was one important woman poet that inaugurated American contemporary poetry.

the text from

the point of view
Bishop’s detailed description of the rooster’s alarming action in the small village, waking everyone, penetrating night, quiet and sleep violently through their crow entails a metaphorical denounce of the aggression and control enacted by the patriarchal order. Written in 1940, the allusions to war and the military may be reflecting World War II violent irruptions in small villages in Europe.
The author takes a commonplace agent in a quiet rural lifestyle, the rooster, making it extraordinary through his symbolism and power. Forcing everyone to an ordered life, imposing discipline and preventing us from dreaming, roosters’ crows summon the troops and represent violence and pride in their fighting attitude and physical attributes. Not even their wives (hens) dare challenge them nor disobey them, admiring their grandeur. The poetic speaker revises the symbol of the rooster in religious terms too: St. Peter’s guilt and Christ’s forgiveness.
Patriarchy in our everyday roles, violence in male war, and religion as a masculinist institution are all represented in the figure of the roosters. Bishop represents a feminist message in the interrelation of the poem’s form and content. By using a fairy tale tone, it takes out seriousness and threat from the violent potential of the masculine rooster. By symbolically degrading patriarchy, war, and religion to a small animal, the poetic voice means to uncover the fragility of those institutions. Dawn, and the violent awaking to light, day and reason, is duplicated at the end of the poem when the sun is finally up. Not the rooster, but the poetic (feminist) voice’s revision of roosters’ real identity has finally awaken us in the process of the poem providing us with vision and knowledge to unmask and understand those who exercise power over lives; a new light to start our day.

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.

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