Elizabeth from the USA meaning the other side is

Bishop’s “Questions of Travel’ offers an insight into the places
travellers journey through. Using Roman Jakobson, Jeremy Scott, and other
theorists’ explanations on the literary poetic functions, sound, foregrounding,
and deixis to analyse how the addresser is unable to truly comprehend the
society they traverse through, where their perceptions are biased and clouded
by the inklings of past experiences.

The poetic function can be
identified with Jakobson’s communication model (1960), the message of the poem
speculates on the addresser’s opinion of traveling and the failure to gain an
appreciation for it; hence the title ‘questions’ its necessity. The message
demonstrates discomfort and passes it on to the addressees, even though it is a
displaced interaction, creating a sombre atmosphere of distress that Bishop
associates with travel itself, and subconsciously, the foreign.

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When first reading the poem, the
setting could have been Asia due to various Asian imagery, such as the rainy
and cloudy weather projected throughout and how the imagery of flooding
expressed by the metaphor; “the mountains look like the hulls of capsized
ships…” This suggests a summer monsoon season associated with southern
Asian countries, trees being “robed in pink” suggesting Sakura
blossom trees, “wooden clogs” akin to the traditional geta sandals,
the deictic expression: “to see the sun the other way around” Bishop
being from the USA meaning the other side is most likely Asia, and finally
“a bamboo church”; a material only commonly found in China. However,
Scott (2013) suggests the setting is placed in Brazil, portraying the polysemy
present in the poem, as he states; “the clogs have not been civilised; the
church of ‘Jesuit baroque’ evokes the earlier sixteenth- century colonisers who
founded numerous missions in Brazil and are the subject of an earlier poem in
the collection, ‘Brazil January 1,1502”.

The sound of the poem is
fashioned much like other modern-day poetry, written in free-verse as with few
half rhymes and repetition present, though in the terms of the poem’s metre,
the style consists of some anapaestic elements of two unstressed and then a
stressed syllable.

The poem’s foregrounding can be
attained through deviation and parallelism as Boris Tomashevsky (1965) notes;
“The old and habitual must be spoken of as if it were new and unusual. One
must speak of the ordinary as if it were unfamiliar”. The
defamiliarisation forces an unusual perspective through methods that are
linguistically noticeable. In terms of internal deviation, which is something
that breaks the established patterns within a text, Bishop creates grammatical
deviations; rhetorical questions throughout the second and fourth stanzas, for
instance; “must we dream our dreams and have them, too?” and other
similar rhetorical questions. This use of language differs from the established
pattern she has created, conveying a pessimistic view on travelling and how
they seem better in ‘dreams’, (Joyceliao, 2014) further portraying the sombre
tone of the message.

In terms of the deixis of the
poem, Keith Green (1992) discusses “Deixis and the Poetic Persona”
which is a classification depending on the deictic centre. For example,
referring to place the speaker mentions their position as “here”; in
juxtaposition to “home”. This adds semantic density to the lexicon as
the narrator cannot identify with what they are witnessing; the world in which
they find themselves seems fake and foreign. Likewise, the first half of the
poem is strongly suggestive of sight imagery, using deictic expressions to use
the readers’ senses to contact. Phrases such as “watching strangers”,
“to see the sun…”, “to stare at”, and “at any
view” subtly focuses the reader to pay attention to the scene around them.
Each specific expression indicates an attempt made by the speaker to highlight
their surroundings.

However, the line; “crowded
streams hurry too rapidly down,” directs the reader not to the imagery but
rather the polysemy message. Instead, she alludes to the mechanisms of the
human capacity to process sight, therefore losing the ability to properly
experience the spectacles and marvels of another’s native environment. Scott
(2013) supports this as he states one of the features of stanza three is
perceptual deixis and modality, as there are seven experienced events related
in the present perfect which relate to some point in time and that these direct
the readers using senses, as he writes; “Of the seven types of process
encoded in the verbs (‘see’, ‘hear’, ‘ponder’), all but one are mental

Closer inspections of the
structure of the poem reveal a decline towards the traditional; the speaker’s
disregard for it establishes her critique of a human tendency towards the
comforting familiar. With the inclusion of the formal shift in the last stanzas
of the poem, Bishop reminds readers of the inherent arbitrary nature of
attempts to answer questions regarding life, understanding, and the exotic. For
instance; the quote about those who stare “at some inexplicable old
stonework/ inexplicable and impenetrable”. These specific words, which are
one form of parallelism due to their alliteration as well as their ending
assonance and consonance, describe the limitations humans face when attempting
to immerse themselves in other cultures, with vastly different customs, histories,
and values. (Joyceliao, 2014)

Furthermore, the third stanza
portrays a format of graphological deviation, resembling a shopping list. There
is an internal dialogue between the speaker and themselves. The customary
format of the interrogatives showcases the importance of singular answers. The
formal tone shifts from a graphological deviation of common font case to italics
at the end of the poem, making the tone appear more conversational.

In terms of grammar, there is a
noticeable transition from the personal, plural pronoun “we”, in
which the reader and the narrator share the experience together to the ambiguous
term; “the traveller”. This in turn, removes the readers from the
experience, suggesting as Joyceliao describes how limited in perspective human
experiences are, and, simultaneously, how critically important it is to become
open minded to promote tolerance and understanding. (2014)

stylistic approaches such as sound, foregrounding, and deixis the addresser
struggles to gain an appreciation for the disparities of the new places they
encounter, questioning their travel when they could experience the same in the
comforts at home. These techniques remind readers of the importance of
self-awareness within their own surroundings to understand the world.


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