Humility

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"When we came to Hustler Hill,

he said that the mare was tired,

so we all got down and walked,

as our good manners required."

Bishop, page 49

Throughout Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Manners", there is a definite sense of humility and kindness.  The family gets down from their wagon and permits the horse to rest in the final stanza.  I found this kindness of the father's very humble: no matter what the situation seemed to be, he was kind, gentle, and calm.

Perhaps Bishop was trying to send a message about the times to the reader.  The poem is specified as "for a child of 1918".  Is she saying that times have changes and that people no longer have this kind of kindness and warmth? Perhaps the world could  use more of the lesson taught to this child of 1918.

 http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/03/poetry_selections/

3 Comments

Juli Banda said:

I also wondered why the poem was specifically for "a child of 1918". Have our manners really gone downhill so much that she can't talk about a more recent time? I believe that teenagers these days do lack manners because of how the culture is now. The time we live in now is drastically different from how it used to be. It is almost more carefree and children are not taught manners like our parents would have been by either their parents or their teachers.

I agree with you in the sense that I think everyone can learn something from this poem. Everyone should take notes and learn manners and kindness for everyone.

Rosalind Blair said:

I read this poem a few times, and the fact that it was for "a child of 1918" stuck in my head (partially because of the chapter in Foster that talked about keeping in mind specific time periods as you read). I think that your assessment of this poem is absolutely correct- and I definitely think that this poem is trying to show that manners do not seem to be as important as they used to be, and that this should definitely change.

Jennifer Prex said:

It's possible that's what it's suggesting. Society today does seem to have more of a "me first" attitude. I think some people do still have this kindness, but it isn't as prevalent as it seems it was. I don't necessarily think that all of it is simply because people aren't kind. Some of it could very well be caution. Earlier in this poem, the grandfather gave a ride to someone. I hate to be cynical, but in this day and age, it can be dangerous to give a stranger a ride anywhere. Caution certainly cuts down on generosity sometimes. Kind acts like those in the poem can still happen, just not as much as this poem seems to suggest they once did.

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