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.
"Meet Elizabeth Bishop." Glencoe.
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.”
"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...
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), poet, was born on 8 February 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father died before her first birthday, and her mother suffered a series of nervous collapses and was committed to a mental hospital when Bishop was five, thus being permanently removed from the life of her only child. From ages three to six, Bishop lived in Great Village, Nova Scotia, with her mother 's parents, and was then taken in by her father 's family in Worcester and Boston. She attended Walnut Hill School near Boston during her high-school years, followed by four years at Vassar. By way of the Vassar librarian, in New York Bishop met the poet Marianne Moore, twenty-four years her senior, and their friendship quickly flourished. Her earliest work, which was influenced by George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Moore, appeared in the Vassar undergraduate magazine she had helped to found. Having briefly considered a career in medicine, she turned to poetry with the encouragement of Moore, who published a handful of her poems in an anthology called Trial Balances in 1935. In residence in New York for a year, she wrote her first mature poems, including "The Map" and "The Man-Moth." She then lived intermittently in Europe for three years before purchasing a house in Key West, Florida, in 1938. After being rejected by several New York publishers, the first of her four volumes of poetry, North and South, was finally published in 1946. The next year she was introduced by Randall Jarrell to Robert Lowell, who became a lifelong friend.
In 1951, the geographical displacement in her life continued when she took ill on a trip to South America; left behind by a freighter in Brazil, she made that country her home for the next eighteen years. Her lesbian relationship with Lota de Macedo Soares gave her life stability and love, and she established residences in Rio de Janeiro, nearby Petrópolis, and, later, Ouro Prêto. A Cold Spring, her second volume of poetry, appeared in 1955. Brazil became the setting for many of the poems that were collected a decade later in Questions of Travel (1965).
After the suicide of Lota de Macedo Soares, Bishop increasingly began to live in the United States, and became poet-in-residence at Harvard University in 1969. A close friendship with Alice Methfessel began in 1971 and continued until the time of Bishop 's death in 1979. Her final poetry volume, Geography III, was published in 1976,
Bishop often spent many years writing a single poem, working toward an effect of offfhandedness and spontaneity. Committed to a "passion for accuracy," she re-created her worlds of Canada, America, Europe, and Brazil. Shunning self-pity, the poems thinly conceal her estrangements as a woman, a lesbian, an orphan, a geographically rootless traveler, a frequently hospitalized asthmatic, and a sufferer of depression and alcoholism. "I 'm not interested in big-scale work as such," she once told Lowell. "Something needn 't be large to be good."
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