Paris. Capital of France and ostensible setting of Bishop’s poem titled “Paris, 7 a.m.” Its speaker draws general conclusions from the immediate particulars of her environment, as she wanders from room to room setting clocks in an apartment. She looks out a window and sees a courtyard and pigeons. She notes the details of her apartment building–ornamental urns, mansard roof, a slice of sky, and gray and yellow stones. This is framed by the rectangle of the window. Using these details as the starting place of an imaginative association game, she strives to understand her own place in this city. By recognizing what these details make her think of, she comes to understand how she is feeling.
In poetry, when something tangible and outside the speaker is implicitly compared with the thoughts and moods within the speaker, it is called an objective correlative. In this poem, the clocks are an example. The speaker calls them “histrionic,” which a clock cannot be but a person can be. Throughout the poem, the imagery implies disorientation and vulnerability and thus that the speaker is feeling disoriented and vulnerable.
The solidly built apartment building, for example, is made of a light-colored stone. The stone reminds her, because of its color, of something fragile, ephemeral, and gone–the snow forts and snowballs of her youth. Bishop is making a sly allusion to one of the most common themes of poetry, one that is usually cited by asking a question: “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” (This question comes from a French poem, so her allusion to it in a poem set in Paris is quite apt.) The answer to the question is that they are gone. The speaker, looking out the window while worried about time (she is setting clocks), considers how time will quickly erase even something as seemingly solid as the stones of her apartment. She is reminded of how fragile and ephemeral all things are, including herself. From the particulars of a place and time she discovers not only a general truth but the particular truth that underlies her experience of that place and time.