Elizabeth Bishop published her poem “Sestina” in 1956.
A sestina is a highly structured form of poetry, consisting of six six-line stanzas, followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines.
The subject of Elizabeht Bishop’s Sestina are a grandmother and a child, who have suffered a loss – perhaps the death of the grandmother’s child, the child’s parent. It is rainy September day and the grandmother has just made tea. The child sits at the table, drawing. The grandmother tries to protect the child from being sad by acting cheerfully and reading stories and jokes from the almanac, but she cannot hold in her tears. The child sees this but at the same time she makes a beautiful drawing of a house and is proud of it.
In the last lines of the poem something magical and very moving happens and I could not hold my tears as I read it: the buttons in the drawing become “little moons” and “fall down like tears/…into the flower bed the child/has carefully placed” in the drawing. While the grandmother tries with all her might to remain cheerful, thinking to protect the child, the child draws a world filled with tears.