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The Use Of Imagery And Symbolism In Elizabeth Bishop’s Filling Station

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Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Filling Station”, appears to be about a person driving through an old family run gas pumping station. The station/ home business is incredibly filthy, and beneath the visitor until they notice the quirky charming things about the home that do not seem to fit its aesthetic. She realizes that regardless of how unappealing she finds this place, somebody cares for it; takes their time to maintain it, better it, and to make it feel more loved. By looking at the figurative language in Bishop’s poem, we can see symbolism and imagery intertwine to create a more in-depth meaning to this piece.

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The first line given in the first stanza of this poem is “oh, but it is dirty!”, right from this we see the speaker sounds disappointed in what they’re seeing. Going on to describe the way the establishment is ruined, possibly implying that she herself is too good for it? That is when “Black translucency” is written; if something is dark and ruined you cannot see through it. If it is translucent you can see through it crystal clear, it is pure. These two words don’t match up, hence the next line “Be careful with that match!”. Certainly a match would set fire to the oil destroying the home, and everything inside of it. In comparison who is to say a dark damaged person would not ruin you as well?

The second stanza tells us of the father’s old tight formal suit, and the greasy sons helping him with the work. This implies that the family cannot afford clothing, and that this is business is how they earn their living. The repetition of the words; dirty, oil-soaked, and greasy throughout not only this line, but the entire poem really set the image into the readers mind that this place has nothing clean, relaxing, or pure about it.

The third stanza brings the author to look a little closer into the home, and its surroundings. She notices its characteristics creating an even clearer image for the reader “cement porch. Wicker work. Dirty dog”, I believe the author is also implementing symbolism by the way impregnated and mentioning the dog on the sofa because these words cause one to think of family.

The author continues to see comic books which symbolize fun adventures, lace coverings on the furniture, and big hairy flowers. These are more charming qualities to the home, even some feminine aspects. Instead of the author being contented by these things she is geared to question why even attempt to salvage this house? Why try to make it presentable? Why believe this can be a warm place worthy of family? Why is it good enough? This is answered by the end line “somebody loves us all”. Someone cares to make it homey, loveable, and taken care of.

I believe this poem is about more than just an oil spill of a home, this poem is about another person, possibly even the author herself. She describes a damaged, dirty person, who she sees as unworthy. She questions why anyone would take the time to care for her, love her, or help her better herself? Why bother to try with someone so disgusting, dark, and dirty that they could ruin everything in you? Again, this is answered in the last line, because despite the dark, the dirty, and disturbing she sees about herself; someone sees her as loveable, charming, fun, and worthy.

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