Filling Station by Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop’s “Filling Station” is about a person’s visit to a gas station; a simple event that should have no possible concurrent effects except for the fact that it does. The person is amazed as she keenly observes every single aspect of the station only to realize how it has a vibrant personality of it’s own.

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Filling Station

BY ELIZABETH BISHOP

Oh, but it is dirty!
–this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color–
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
ESSO–SO–SO–SO

to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Analysis of Bishop’s “Filling Station”

Imagery is a key element throughout the entire plot. An otherwise banal situation, a visit to a gas station, is brought alive with the use of excessive imagination and equally generous description. As it is a gas station, the elements of oil and dirt are very prominently emphasized on within the lines. “Father wears a dirty oil-soaked monkey suit that cuts him under the arms, and several quick and saucy and greasy sons assist him all quite thoroughly dirty.”

The first and second stanzas act as homage to the dreary state of the station that is apparently being run by a family. It is very clear from the initial exclamation of the speaker, “Oh, but it is dirty!”, that she is opposed to the idea of a domestic arrangement in such an environment. By the later part of the poem, she has begun to notice other aspects of the station such as the doily and a few comics lying around. She wonders at the futile attempts at making the place a bit more livable when it is apparent that everything is going to waste anyway.

However, this is where the moral of the story lies. The chaos and the filth of the gas station is a symbol of the constant negativism that we have to live with everyday but the doily and the other symbols of embellishment represent our never-ending search for a little bit of beauty in a world that has seemed to have almost given up hope. Beauty is everywhere, only if we have the eyes that are able to look for it and appreciate it. Elizabeth Bishop intentionally paints the picture of a tired old gas station of all the places in order to maintain her stand on aestheticism.

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