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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

HOUSE GUEST, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"House Guest" is a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, an American poet who was born in 1911 and died in 1979. The poem was written in the mid-1950s, but it was not published until after her death in the 1980s.

The subject of the poem is a house guest who has overstayed their welcome. The speaker of the poem describes the guest as someone who is "unwanted" and "unwelcome," and who has been staying in the house for an unspecified period of time. The speaker's frustration with the guest is palpable, as they describe the various ways in which the guest has disrupted their life and caused them annoyance and inconvenience.

One of the essential poetic elements of "House Guest" is the use of imagery. Bishop employs vivid and evocative descriptions to convey the guest's impact on the speaker's life, such as when she writes, "A shadow lengthens on the lawn, / and driving in the nails once more, / I hear the first of the evening sounds / that last until the dawn." Through these images, the poem conveys a sense of weariness and exhaustion that the speaker feels as a result of the guest's presence.

Another important poetic element of the poem is its use of repetition. Bishop repeats certain phrases and images throughout the poem, such as the image of the nails being driven into the wall, which creates a sense of monotony and tedium. This repetition also reinforces the idea that the guest's presence is an unwelcome burden that the speaker is struggling to endure.

Overall, "House Guest" is a powerful and poignant poem that explores the theme of unwanted intrusion and the toll that it can take on a person's life. Through its use of imagery and repetition, the poem effectively conveys the speaker's frustration and exhaustion, creating a vivid and memorable portrait of a difficult situation.


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