'Filling Station' by Elizabeth Bishop

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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:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Filling Station: A Masterpiece of Imagery and Emotion

If there's one poem that can transport you to another world, it's Elizabeth Bishop's "Filling Station." This masterpiece of imagery and emotion captures the essence of a gas station in rural America, bringing to life the sights, smells, and sounds of a place that's often overlooked or forgotten. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll delve into the deeper meanings and themes of "Filling Station," exploring how Bishop uses language to create a vivid portrait of a world that's both mundane and magical.

The Setting: A Gas Station in Rural America

The poem begins with a description of the filling station itself, a place that's clearly seen better days:

Oh, but it is dirty! —this little filling station, oil-soaked, oil-permeated to a disturbing, over-all black translucency.

Bishop's use of language here is masterful, evoking the grime and grubbiness of the place in just a few words. The repetition of "oil" reinforces the idea that this is a place where machinery reigns supreme, and where human concerns take a back seat. The phrase "black translucency" is particularly striking, as it suggests that the oil has seeped so deeply into the walls and floors of the station that it's become part of their very essence.

But amid all the dirt and grime, there are glimpses of something more vibrant and alive. The speaker notes that there are "a few oil-soaked, oil-permeated / experts" working at the station, suggesting that this is a place where people are skilled in their craft and take pride in their work. We also see signs of life in the "family of clothespins" that have been hung out to dry, and in the "worn Firs' National" calendar that hangs on the wall.

All of these details add up to paint a picture of a place that's simultaneously dreary and full of life. The speaker seems to be both repelled and fascinated by the filling station, and we as readers can't help but feel drawn in by the vividness of her descriptions.

The Family Behind the Station

As the poem progresses, we start to get a sense of the people who run the filling station. There's the "father wearing a dirty, / oil-soaked monkey suit," who seems to be the head honcho of the operation. We also meet the mysterious "somebody," who has decorated the office with "comic books and a Bible / on a Sunday beneath the candy-striped pole."

What's particularly intriguing about these characters is the sense of mystery that surrounds them. We don't know much about their backstories or their motivations, but we do get a sense that they're hardworking and resourceful. The father, for example, is described as "a big, good-natured / man of the thumb / and the hammer," suggesting that he's someone who's used to getting his hands dirty and making things work.

The presence of the Bible in the office is also worth noting. It suggests that this is a family that has some connection to religion, or at least to the moral values espoused by Christianity. And yet they're also unafraid to indulge in something as seemingly frivolous as comic books, suggesting that they're not beholden to any one way of thinking or being.

The Magic of Everyday Life

One of the key themes of "Filling Station" is the idea that even the most mundane and seemingly unimportant things in life can be imbued with a sense of magic and wonder. Bishop achieves this through her use of vivid imagery and sensory details, which transform the filling station from a grubby site of industry into a place of beauty and enchantment.

Consider, for example, the way Bishop describes the "five big dummies" that sit on top of the gas pumps:

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.

The doily, plant, and cans might seem like insignificant details, but Bishop infuses them with a sense of wonder and mystery. The fact that "somebody" has taken the time to embroider the doily and tend to the plant suggests that there's an underlying sense of care and attention to detail at the filling station. And the soft murmuring of the gasoline brand name—"ESSO—SO—SO—SO"—is so musical and hypnotic that it almost feels like a lullaby.

This sense of everyday magic is further reinforced in the final lines of the poem, where Bishop writes:

Somebody loves us all.

Here, Bishop suggests that even in the most unglamorous and seemingly unimportant places in the world, there is something that connects us all. This could be interpreted as a reference to the universal human experience, or as a suggestion that there is a higher power at work in the world. Either way, it's a powerful statement of hope and connection that resonates long after the poem has ended.


Elizabeth Bishop's "Filling Station" is a masterpiece of poetry, a work that captures the magic and mystery of everyday life in rural America. Through her vivid imagery and striking use of language, Bishop brings to life a world that's both grubby and enchanting, full of hardworking people who take pride in their craft. And in the final lines of the poem, she suggests that even in the most unimportant and seemingly insignificant places, there is something that connects us all. It's a message of hope and connection that feels particularly resonant in our current cultural moment, and a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always something worth celebrating.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Filling Station: A Masterpiece of Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and her poem "Filling Station" is a classic example of her unique style and voice. The poem is a beautiful and vivid description of a gas station, but it is much more than that. It is a meditation on the beauty of the ordinary, the importance of attention to detail, and the power of language to transform the mundane into the magical.

The poem begins with a simple description of the filling station, which is "dirty" and "oil-soaked." The speaker notes that "someone has loved it," despite its grime and disrepair. This opening sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a celebration of the beauty that can be found in unexpected places.

The speaker then goes on to describe the various objects and details of the filling station, from the "five-gallon cans" to the "greasy sons" who work there. Each detail is given its own line, which emphasizes its importance and draws attention to its unique qualities. The language used to describe these objects is also carefully chosen, with words like "oil-soaked," "rusty," and "dirty" creating a sense of texture and depth.

As the poem progresses, the speaker's tone becomes more reverent and even mystical. She describes the "family" who runs the filling station as "wearing / oil-soaked, oil-colored / clothes." This description elevates the workers to a kind of mythic status, as if they are part of a larger, ancient tradition of labor and industry.

The speaker then turns her attention to the "funny little shack" that serves as the office for the filling station. She notes that it is "not too hard to like" and that it is "a sort of / pink / with a little white / paint." This description is both whimsical and poignant, as it suggests that even the most humble and unassuming structures can have their own unique charm and beauty.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as the speaker reflects on the meaning and significance of the filling station. She notes that "all is well" at the station, despite its apparent disarray and neglect. This observation is both comforting and profound, as it suggests that even in the midst of chaos and disorder, there is a kind of underlying harmony and order.

The final lines of the poem are particularly striking, as the speaker declares that "somebody loves us all." This statement is both a recognition of the love and care that has gone into the filling station, and a reminder that we are all connected and loved, even in the most unexpected and unlikely places.

Overall, "Filling Station" is a masterpiece of poetry, and a testament to Elizabeth Bishop's skill and vision as a writer. The poem is a celebration of the beauty of the ordinary, and a reminder that even the most humble and unassuming things can have their own unique charm and significance. It is a powerful meditation on the power of language to transform the mundane into the magical, and a testament to the enduring power of love and connection in our lives.

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