There are many fantastic poets out there today and there were many in the past. One of these many great poets is Elizabeth Bishop. She started writing poems in 1946 and stopped in 1979. Her poems were very imaginative yet serious and sophisticated at the same time. Each poet has their own way to write, and this is hers.
Elizabeth Bishop was born on February 8, 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Only a few months after Bishop was born, her father passed away and because of this, her mother suffered from a mental breakdown and was admitted into an insane asylum in Nova Scotia until she passed away in 1934. At the age of six Elizabeth Bishop was taken to live with her grandparents back in Worcester. She then began to be frequently ill, so to give her a ‘happier surrounding’, she moved in with her aunt in Boston. At this age, 8, is when she started to read poetry and fairy tales. Walt Whitman and Gerard Manley Hopkins were her favorite and most inspirational poets at the time.
As Elizabeth Bishop grew older she started to choose her career path. At the age of 16 she was admitted to a boarding school in Natick, Massachusettes where she read and studied the works of William Shakespeare and English Romantic poets. One year she tried to study music but then realized that she is terrified of recitals so she quickly dropped that dream and she returned to literature. Along with Mary McCarthy and Eleanor Clark, Elizabeth Bishop founded a literary review, this was where Bishop’s very first poem was published. Then later in the Vassar Review, many pieces of her work were being published but during this time her writing skills were affected to a heavy drinking problem. After Bishop’s problem was solved, she went back to creating great poems, with help of the greatest poetic mentor in Bishop’s early years, Marianne Moore. Moore helped Bishop write more poems and write her first volume, North and South(1946), which was chosen for the Houghton Mifflin Poetry Award and contained one of her most anthologized single poems.
With lots of money from her many awards and prizes, Bishop went on a vacation to Brazil, here she had allergic attacks that forced her to unexpectedly stay for several months. Once she was finally cured, she decided to stay and actually lived in Brazil for many years. During her stay there, Elizabeth Bishop fell in love with a wonderful Brazilian woman, her name was Lota de Macedo Soares. The two actually lived together for a while until Soares tragically committed suicide in 1967. In 1955, Bishop published a second book, inside was North and South(1946). This volume was titled Poems: North and South — A Cold Spring. There was many poems inside of this book, one of which was “At the Fishhouses.” Much of the work in this book and after, up until about 1974, was influenced by her life in Brazil. Bishop then had poems and book being published like wildflowers.
Elizabeth had some great influence in her life to motivate her in her in the poetic arts. Bishop was greatly influenced by the poet Marianne Moore, who she met when she was introduced by a librarian at Vassar in 1934. There was an inseparable friendship between the two women, remembered by an extensive amount of similarities between the two. Bishop stayed with and used Moore as an influence until Moore’s death in 1972. Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses”(1955) contains many references to Moore’s 1924 poem “A Grave.” Bishop was also introduced to Robert Lowell through Randall Jarrell in 1947 and the two soon became fantastic friends. But the friendship was curtailed when Lowell died in 1977. After his death, Bishop wrote, “our friendship, often kept alive through years of separation only by letters, remained constant and affectionate, and I shall always be deeply grateful for it”. They both were influences for each other’s poetry. Lowell mentioned the influence from Bishop in his poem “Skunk Hour” which he stated had, “modeled on Miss Bishop’s ‘The Armadillo.'” In another poem, “The Scream”, Lowell said is “derived from…Bishop’s story In the Village.” “North Haven,” was one of the very last poems Elizabeth Bishop had published during her lifetime, and it was written as a memorial for Robert Lowell.
Unlike her good friend Robert Lowell, who wrote in a Confessional style, while Bishop’s poetry avoids explicit accounts of her personal life and focuses instead with great delicacy on her impressions of the physical world. She uses lots of adjectives, metaphors, and similes to help the reader create a mental image of what is going on at the time. The imagery in her poems are very specific and realistic sounding. Rhyming wasn’t really used much in Bishop’s poems but was is used sometimes to add emphasis and/or humor. If the poem did have a rhyming scheme it would be different, rather than being every two lines rhyme or every other, Bishop would do every four lines. So the end of the first lines could be “wharf” and the last word of the fourth line would rhyme, so for instance “dwarf”. She had her own style that made her poems unique.
One of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems is A Summer’s Dream. This poem was published in 1959. This poem has a sort of childish tone to it, yet still sounds sophisticated. During the whole poem, Bishop is describing the town that she lives in as well as describing the other residents of the place. In A Summer’s Dream, Elizabeth Bishop is the speaker and speaks in a first person perspective. Throughout the poem, it seems as if Bishop is playing the role of a daughter. She sounds like this because the whole time she is using such descriptive words to put a sense of imagination into each line. The poem shows the the everyday life in her town and it at first seems like she is just telling what she sees. But, as u get to the end you realize that the whole time she was using her creativity and imagination to dream of a town that she would love to live in. The tone used in the poem however, is more sophisticated and sounds like something an adult would say rather than a little girl. Bishop seems compassionate towards the subject and she makes you feel welcomed into this little town of hers in just 36 lines.
Towards her neighbors, or the other characters, there is two different tones. Toward the elder and weaker characters, there seems to be a gentle and sympathetic feeling, while there is a cruel and condescending feel. But these two tones are used in just the right amount that they balance out the negatives and positives to make the poem neutral. Poems contain many poetic devices to help make the writing stronger. Not all of it has to do with the tone and theme of the poem, but with the diction. The diction of a poem is the poet’s choice of words and how they are put together. An abundantly used poetic device in A Summer’s Dream is imagery. Bishop uses imagery throughout her poem to help the reader create an image in their mind of the scenery. She describes her boarding house, “blue as a makerel,our boarding house was streaked as though it had been crying”(14-16), by using these descriptive words and metaphors the reader can piece the information together to create a picture.
Elizabeth Bishop uses words like “sagging”(1), “idiot”(4), and “shrunken”(12) to put a negative and depressing feel to the town of her dreams. In the same poem word such as “gentle”(5), “kind”(7), and “extraodinary”(17) to give a positive and caring tone. The poet uses both sides together in some cases, “He was morose, but she was cheerful”(29), the poetic devices are used this way to create a sense of neutrality. Over all Bishop wrote many fantastic poems all in her sophisticated yet whimsical way that would spark the interest of many readers and hopefully influence them to do something. They were full of imagery and poetic elements to create a sense of interest to the reader and to also help them to create a mental picture of the actions in the poem at the time. Elizabeth Bishop has received a great amount of recognition and has earned many awards during her career. Each poet has their own way to write, and Elizabeth’s poetic ways were very popular and unique but very sadly came to an end in october of 1979 when she passed away of a cerebral aneurism in Boston.
Flemming, Bruce E., and Ann D. Garbett. “Elizabeth Bishop.” Biography Research Center. Magill’s Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition, Sept. 2006. Web. “Poet Elizabeth Bishop.” Poets.org. N.p., n.d. Web.
Lensing, George S. “About Elizabeth Bishop.” Modern American Poetry. Oxford University Press, Feb. 2009. Web.
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