Themes and Issues in the Poetry of Langston Hughes and Elizabeth Bishop

Categories: Elizabeth Bishop

Just like a swallow, Bishop's Sandpiper is a migratory species that will fly incredible distances, however, both poets use allegorical examples of their respective birds to provide Anthropomorphism in the two different poems. The swallows indicate Sheers use of words in relation to writing or creativity such as 'script', 'ink' and 'signatures' (10, 11) to show a sense of unending continuity as they commit to creating shapes and patterns in their movements, much like the poet who is writing and in the act of creation by adding words to a page.

The sandpiper indicates that Bishop wants the reader to see how unsettled she was during her own life by stating 'He runs, he runs, to the South, finical, awkward' (Bishop, 1965, Line 3) just as she too travelled from Nova Scotia and in its rhythm we feel the darting movements of the bird. There are scattered stress patterns, dramatising the sandpiper's condition, the poem also shows organised chaos reflecting the bird's 'controlled panic' (4).

A writer of prose or poetry could use their work to show the reader why they are living in a new environment or in the case of the poet, Langston Hughes, a neighbourhood where mass groups of people were having to live together due to a change of circumstance.

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Hughes' poetry unveils a glimpse of the New York Harlem district in which we, as readers, see all of the profound truths of life within the relatively new districts of the city. Hughes's 'Good Morning' shows the reader snapshots of life as seen by the male narrator of the poem.

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He lists places of origin where huge groups of people chose to migrate away from unrest 'until coloured folks spread' (Hughes, 1959, P. 269). 'Songs For A Coloured Singer' by Elizabeth Bishop also mirrors the emotional connection that people place on location. Bishop writes about origins but also shows the reader an uncomfortable truth regarding the start of slavery 'Adult and child sink to their rest' (Bishop, 1969, III, Line 1, 2) she is telling the reader about the huge loss of life that often occurred as the boats that transported slaves often sank.

Bishop splits 'Songs For A Coloured Singer' into four sections, however, the third section which has the subtitle 'Lullaby' Bishop uses a rhyming scheme that shows the lyrical format of her poem. The five stanzas have their second and fourth lines rhyming using assonance based on the repetition of similar vowels such as 'rest/breast' and 'fall/wall' (2-4, 6-8). This example of a rhyming structure is cleverly designed by Bishop to be softly spoken or possibly sung just like a lullaby but hidden in its 'lyrics' contains a grim message about slavery. Her first and fifth stanzas are also repeated similar to most gospel/jazz tunes that were popular at that time. This theme of displacement is also alluded to in most of Hughes's poetry but, it is in 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers' that he shows the reader the sheer scale of his observation of other places by letting us look back historically with his first-person speaker to places of civilisation where mankind had its common ancestry that thrived along major rivers many of which, sadly, had links with slavery 'Congo' (6) and 'Mississippi' (8)

Hughes shows us via his poem that displacement or the moving of something from its place can reveal translational qualities that are carried by the voices of the speaker. Hughes' 'Good Morning' uses a rhyming couplet that mimics Latino slang where he cleverly rhymes 'Rico' (9) with 'Chico' (10) that means a young person. In her poem 'The Burglars of Babylon' Bishop speaks as a storyteller who is showing the reader, as seen through her first-person perspective, which gives full creditability to scenes of the various districts of Rio in Brazil. Again there is a reference to Anthropomorphism whereby people are replaced by sparrows 'On the hills a million people, A million sparrows, nest' (1965, 5-6). Just as she too moved south from her place of origin, Nova Scotia, she might have indicated that she was personified as a sparrow within her own poetry.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Themes and Issues in the Poetry of Langston Hughes and Elizabeth Bishop. (2019, Nov 22). Retrieved from

Themes and Issues in the Poetry of Langston Hughes and Elizabeth Bishop essay
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