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The Bistro Styx

Rita Dove has written many different kinds of poetry. She also wrote books, short stories plays and all types of literature. This essay will focus on specifics of her writing by analyzing three pieces of poetry that Rita Dove has written. The works we will be looking at are In the Old Neighborhood, My Mother Enters the Work Force, and The Bistro Styx. Through these three works you will see examples of Rita Doves use of home in her poetry, her use of figurative devices such as similes and metaphors, and you will see Doves view on children coming of age in different ways.

By looking at the poem “In the Old Neighborhood” we can deduce a number of things from the overall poem. Dove seems to go back in time to view her home as a child from a newly shifting and surreal location. The speakers in Doves poems are not usually at ease with their surroundings, and they tend to look upon scenes of home as seen through a distant and dispassionate eye. Doves home seems alien to her. Even the flowers are strangers there. Analyzing the poem farther we can see that Dove uses her views on home to further alienate from our familiar picture of that typical suburban home.

She seems to be talking about the house in a manner that would indicate it is a photographic negative; this emphasizes race as an alienating factor. Doves writing usually charts a sense of displacement and this seems to be the case in “The Old Neighborhood”. In My Mother Enters the Work Force Dove does not use her home theme, but in The Bistro Styx, which is a small excerpt from a works entitled Mother Love, Dove does make references to home. This poem is a recasting of the story of Demeter and Persephone from ancient Greek mythology.

In short, Hades kidnaps Persephone from her home, and Demeter, her mother goes insane trying to get her back. Demeter is able to go after Persephone only to find that too late Persephone has already “adapted” to life in the underworld, and must remain there because she ate the fruit of the dead. Doves version is much the same and takes place in Paris. It deals with loss of home and a home coming that was not to be. Many of Rita Doves works deal, approach, define, or scrutinize the ideas of home, while they are equally concerned about the impossibility of arriving there,

Like all poets, Rita Dove relies heavily on figurative language to create a vivid and enthralling imaginary world for her audience. As Doves poetry is so varied, it is easy to spot any number of types of figurative language she likes to use. After looking through the selections it appears she does not rely heavily on any particular type of figurative language. In the Old Neighborhood makes use of personification and contrasting dark vs. light elements. My Mother Enters the Work Force uses a little personification with rich and descriptive metaphors and even throws in a hyperbole or two.

The Bistro Styx ….. is a beautifully worded poem that uses elements of different types of rhyme schemes combined with similes, metaphors, and personification all rolled into a semi-tight package. The reason for the semi-tightness is that Dove feels a weak poem is one that is not left open in at least one way. Doves description is very vivid as seen with this simile from The Bistro Styx, “The Chateaubriand arrived on a bone-white plate, smug and absolute in its fragrant crust, a black plug steaming like the heart plucked from the chest of a worthy enemy” .

Here is a short but memorable hyperbole from My Mother Enters the Work Force, “traveling the lit path of the needle through quicksand taffeta or velvet deep as a forest”. Figurative language has a direct effect on tone but with the variety of poems that Dove produces it is hard to pin anything like a specific figurative language setter for the tone. It depends on what, and for whom she is writing. Rita Dove uses many different kinds of figurative language and seems to be effective in getting her message across from her different works in different ways. Dove also wrote very heavily on mother/daughter relationships and coming of age stories.

In My Mother Enters the Work Force, it is obvious that this person finally has to take on the responsibility of becoming an adult and caring for himself or herself. While this may not be a traditional coming of age type story it still represents a great change for an individual who has never experienced this kind of thing before. In The Bistro Styx, the darker side of the mother/daughter relationship is explored. Through the poem we can see that there comes a point when a mother can no longer protect her daughter, and in a sense, she must let her out of the nest.

Dove approaches this from both sides of the issue. Demeter, the mother, is insanely worried about her daughter. Persephone is unmindful of her mothers fear and is off having a great time partying in Paris. Although Persephone is having a great time, what she doesnt realize is that she can never really return home. The end of the poem symbolizes the mother realizing her daughters sexual awakening, and with that the realization that things are out of her control. Dove delves deep into these kinds of relationships in many of her poems, not just the examples given.

The works we looked at were In the Old Neighborhood, My Mother Enters the Work Force, and The Bistro Styx. Through these three works we saw examples of Rita Doves use of home in her poetry, her use of figurative devices such as similes and metaphors, and her views and themes on children coming of age in different ways. These three elements do not fully encompass all that is Rita Dove. In fact, with a poet as diverse as she is it is hard to pick three main ideas when really they arent as main as you might think. Rita Dove is a complex and fascinating individual who will continue to write her style of poetry for many years to come.

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