Elizabeth Bishop

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  • Topic: Poetry, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop
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Elizabeth Bishop Biography
Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979) once told her writing class at Harvard University, “Use the dictionary; It’s better than the critics.” Bishop’s wit and devotion to careful, precise language came through in her own writing, which earned her nearly every major poetry prize in the U.S.

For Bishop, writing poetry was an act of “self-forgetfulness,” in which she focused on shaping and sharing her impressions of the physical world rather than on giving the details of her sometimes difficult personal life. When she was very young, her father died and her mother was permanently hospitalized, so Bishop was raised by relatives. After graduation from Vassar College in 1934, she traveled frequently and lived in many places, including Florida, New York, Europe, and Brazil. She kept in touch with people she met through thousands of letters, some which were collected and published in her book One Art.

In 1934 Bishop was introduced to the poet Marianne Moore, who became Bishop’s valued friend and mentor. Bishop also became close to poet Robert Lowell, who provided unstinting moral support and helped her obtain grants, fellowships, and awards. They critiqued each other’s poetry and remained staunch allies throughout their lives.

Described by many friends as generous and wise, Bishop was also complicated and intensely private. Though she suffered from depression, people were struck by her warmth and self-deprecating sense of humor. She appreciated friends and relatives who made her laugh. She wrote, “I have been very lucky in having had, most of my life, some witty friends,- and I mean real wit, quickness, wild fancies, remarks that make one cry with laughing.”

Bishop’s voice is one of the most distinctive in American poetry, conveying not only the sights and sounds of nature but also the thoughts and feelings of a speaker groping toward and understanding of nature. Bishop was preoccupied with questions of guilt, loss, and artistic vision, and these issues appear in her poetry.

Over her fifty-year career, Bishop published five slim volumes of poetry with a total of 101 poems. Of her final poetry collection, critic Alfred Corn wrote that Bishop achieved “a perfected transparence of expression, warmth of tone, and a singular blend of sadness and good humor, of pain and acceptance- a radiant patience few people ever achieve and few writers ever successfully render.” Besides writing, Bishop taught at Harvard for seven years and served as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.

Work Cited
"Meet Elizabeth Bishop." Glencoe.
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Thesis Statement 1
“The author Elizabeth Bishop exaggerates and is over dramatic, when she uses the word Disaster in her poem One Art”
Thesis Statement 2
“The author Elizabeth Bishop has experienced all kinds of losses in her life.”

Analytical Articles
Elizabeth Dodd
"One Art" is Bishop's one example of a villanelle, a form she admired and tried to work with for years. It is widely considered a splendid achievement of the villanelle. . . . Loss is its subject, but the poem begins almost trivially. The first line, casual and disarming, returns throughout the poem. The natural-sounding contraction helps to create the semblance of real speech even within this complex form, and the details and examples that follow immediately do not, indeed, seem like great losses. Door keys, a wasted hour, even forgotten names certainly do not warrant the term consistently invoked by the rhyme: "disaster." But the poem builds, until "cities" and "realms" -- of great import to this geographically inclined poet implied by this and all her books -- have been lost. Not until the final quatrain, bringing the villanelle to the completion of its required form, does the real occasion of the poem appear. Here the loss is very personal, a person, "you." Yet the details...
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