Song for the Rainy Season by Elizabeth Bishop

In ‘Song for the Rainy Season’ Bishop taps into themes of nature, interconnectivity, as well as solitude. She creates an image of a home that is thriving with life but is at the same time completely calm and isolated. This period of time can’t last forever as the final stanza asserts. 

Song for the Rainy Season by Elizabeth Bishop

 

Summary of Song for the Rainy Season

‘Song for the Rainy Season’ by Elizabeth Bishop depicts a home in the middle of the rainy season and all the life that thrives in and around it. 

Through beautiful and memorable images, Bishop’s speaker takes the reader through the various aspects of her home and all that one can find there. She speaks on the creatures, silverfish, owls, mice, that live inside and outside as well as the constant presence of water during this particular season. When the sunrises, everything is “milk-white,” the fog encompasses the home as if it is living in its own cloud. In the final stanza, she uses juxtaposition to compare the rainy season to the middle of summer. 

You can read the poem in full Song for the Rainy Season here.

 

Structure of Song for the Rainy Season

‘Song for the Rainy Season’ by Elizabeth Bishop is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of ten lines. These lines do not follow a single rhyme scheme, but there are numerous examples of rhyme throughout the lines. For example, stanza one rhymes ABACADAEFA, with a few of those rhymes being closer to half-rhymes.

Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, a reader can look to lines seven and nine of the second stanza with the words “back” and “rock”. Or, the long “i” vowel sound in “white” and “rise” in stanza four. 

 

Poetic Techniques in Song for the Rainy Season

Bishop makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Song for the Rainy Season’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and personification. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “blood-black / bromelias” in stanza one and “fat frogs” and “for” in stanza three. 

Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. There is a good example in the second stanza where the poet states that the “the brook sings loud / from a rib cage / of giant fern”. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are numerous examples of this technique to be found in ‘Song for the Rainy Season’. This is due to the short length of the lines and the lack of end-punctuation that Bishop uses. For instance the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza and lines one and two of the second stanza. 

 

Analysis of Song for the Rainy Season 

Stanza One 

Hidden, oh hidden
in the high fog
(…)
of the waterfalls cling,
familiar, unbidden.

In the first stanza of ‘Song for the Rainy Season,’ the poet begins by painting an image of the “house we live in”. She is addressing an unknown listener, someone she is close with, and knows her life well. They share that life together. In the “rainy season,” the house is ‘hidden / in the high fog”. This place, although certainly nothing special in the larger scheme or things, takes on wondrous and magical qualities in this poem. 

The wetness of the air and the vibrancy of life around the house penetrates the poem. She speaks of the various life forms, “owls” and “lichens” that can be found in the area around her home. Everywhere, the “lint of the waterfalls,” or the drops of water, “cling / familiar”. This speaks to the general wetness of the world, every surface is covered with drops of water. 

 

Stanza Two

In a dim age
of water
(…)
house and rock,
in a private cloud.

In the second stanza, the presence of water is reemphasized. This is the “age / of water” and therefore anyone present can hear the singing of the “brook,” a good example of alliteration. It is in amongst the sword ferns that appear to the poet to be giant ribcages. 

All around there is a “vapour” this fog creates a world all its own in which the house is engulfed. The speaker and the listener are in their own “private cloud”. A reader should take note of the use of enjambment in these lines. It allows one to move quickly from one line to the next but because of the shortness of the lines, it still makes use that each image rings with importance. 

 

Stanza Three

At night, on the roof,
blind drops crawl
(…)
shrilling for love,
clamber and mount.

In the third stanza of ‘Song for the Rainy Season’ the speaker transitions from day into night. While those inside the house can’t see what’s going on outside, everything takes on an even more mystical quality. The owl taps on the roof, “five times—always five” as if proving to the speaker, she says, that he can count. The tapping comes along with other hard to place noises, as well as the “shrilling for love” of the “fat frogs”. 

This stanza is a wonderful example of the skill Bishop had in crafting images that were readily accessible to the reader. This poem is packed full of them, each one taping into several human senses. These lines in particular ask the reader to hear, feel, and see what’s going on around the speaker.

 

Stanza Four

House, open house
to the white dew
(…)
for the mildew’s
ignorant map;

In the fourth stanza of ‘Song for the Rainy Season,’ the speaker moves from night into the “milk-white sunrise”. This is a reference to the fog that encompasses the house making it impossible to see the sun. All around them there are creatures that are also experiencing this sunrise. The rainy season has Brough out the silverfish and mice, as well as the bookworms and big moths. There is an “ignorant” map of mildew on the wall, growing without purpose. But, when the speaker sees it she can’t help but feel like it is trying to become something. 

 

Stanzas Five and Six

darkened and tarnished
by the warm touch
(…)
waterfalls shrivel
in the steady sun.

In the fifth stanza of ‘Song for the Rainy Season’ the speaker finishes the sentence she began in the fourth stanza. She is still speaking about the house and its various qualities. It will only appear as it does today for a brief time. In the future things will change and therefore this moment must be cherished and rejoiced over. 

In the sixth stanza, the speaker concludes the poem by using the image of a rock that is bare. It is “no longer wearing / rainbows or rain”. This is a world “without water”. When compared to the bright images of the previous stanzas, this other world is dark and drab. Now, rather than using celebratory language, the speaker describes the high fog as disappearing and the waterfalls and “shrivel[ing]” up in the “steady sun”. 

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