Chapter 10: Late Twentieth Century and Postmodernism

    Elizabeth Bishop

    © Paul Reuben
    October 21, 2016

Outside Link: | Vassar EB Site |

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 2000-Present | Study Questions | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap. 10: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |

Source: Modern American Poetry 

Primary Works

North & South, 1946; Poems: North & South - A Cold Spring, 1956; Questions of Travel, 1965; The Complete Poems, 1969; Geography III, 1976; The Complete Poems, 1927-1979; The Collected Prose, 1984.

The complete poems. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969. PS3503 I785

An anthology of twentieth-century Brazilian poetry. Edited, with introd., by Elizabeth Bishop and Emanuel Brasil. Middletown, Conn., Wesleyan University Press 1972. PQ9658 B5

Questions of travel; poems. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1965. PS3503.I785 .Q4

Geography III. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976. PS3503 I785 G4

The complete poems, 1927-1979. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, c1983. PS3503 .I785

The collected prose. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984. PS3503 .I785 A15

Becoming a poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. David Kalstone; edited with a preface by Robert Hemenway ; afterword by James Merrill. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989. PS 3503 .I785 Z75

The ballad of the burglar of Babylon. Woodcuts by Ann Grifalconi. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1968. Juv / 811 BIS

Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments. ed. Alice Quinn. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006.

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. ed. Thomas Travisano. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008.

Prose. ed. Lloyd Schwartz. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011.

Poems. ed. Saskia Hamilton. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011.

Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence. ed. Joelle Biele. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011.

| Top | Selected Bibliography 2000-Present

Chiasson, Dan. One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007.

Corelle, Laurel S. A Poet's High Argument: Elizabeth Bishop and Christianity. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2008.

Ellis, Jonathan. Art and Memory in the Work of Elizabeth Bishop. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006.

Fortuny, Kim. Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Travel. Boulder: UP of Colorado, 2003.

Knickerbocker, Scott. Ecopoetics: The Language of Nature, and Nature of Language. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2012.

Monteiro, George. Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and After: A Poetic Career Transformed. Jefferson: McFarland, 2012.

Roman, Camille. Elizabeth Bishop's World War II-Cold War View. NY: Palgrave, 2001.

Rotella, Guy. Castings: Monuments and Monumentality in Poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, Derek Walcott, and Seamus Heaney. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2004.

Rosenbaum, Susan B. Professing Sincerity: Modern Lyric Poetry, Commercial Culture, and the Crisis in Reading. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2007.

Samuels, Peggy. Deep Skin: Elizabeth Bishop and Visual Art. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2010.

Upton, Lee. Defensive Measures: The Poetry of Niedecker, Bishop, Glück, and Carson. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell UP, 2005.

Zona, Kirstin H. Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and May Swenson: The Feminist Poetics of Self-Restraint. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2002.

| Top |Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979): A Brief Biography
A Student Project by Carolina Arana

Elizabeth Bishop was born on February 8, 1911 in Worchester, Massachusetts.  She was the only child of William Thomas Bishop and Gertrude Boomer (Bulmer).  William died when Elizabeth was just eight months old.  Gertrude became emotionally and mentally unstable.  She was in and out of mental hospitals for five years.  In 1916 Elizabeth's mother became permanently insane and was committed to a mental institution and Elizabeth never saw her mother again.  In her early childhood, her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia, Canada raised Elizabeth.  There she had a simple and peaceful life; she received a lot of affection.  When she was six years old she was taken to live with her paternal grandparents in Worcester. There she was unhappy because she spent most of her time sick from severe asthma and several other diseases.  In the first grade her loyalties were divided between Canada and the U.S. When her grandmother Bishop found out she made Elizabeth learn all the verses to the Star Spangled Banner and recite them to her everyday (Millier 21).  Soon afterwards she was taken to live with her mother's sister, Maud.  Her health improved but she still was not well enough to attend school.  She spent a lot of her time ill in bed; she had a lonely childhood but she developed an interest for books and music. 

In 1927 she went to boarding school in Massachusetts. In 1930 she attended Vassar College in New York.  Around the age of twenty she became an alcoholic.  In 1932 she took a walking tour of Newfoundland.  Although her childhood illnesses prevented her from spending much time outdoors she loved to travel to different countries when she was able to.  During her junior year in college she sent her poems to magazines and had some success with them.  There was a lot of fantasy in her early poetry; she crossed the "boundary between consciousness and subconscious." (Stevenson 38)   In 1934 her mother died; that same year she graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree in English Literature.  Elizabeth wrote the memory about her last encounter with her mother, which had taken place in 1916. She traveled to a lot of places between 1935 to 1938.  She went to Belgium, France, England, North Africa, Spain, Ireland, Florida and Italy.  She lived in Florida and she also lived in Mexico for nine months.  She had troubles while writing her first book of poetry titled North and South.  Her alcoholism increased; she was also depressed and went to a psychotherapist; she had asthma attacks and she was running out of money.  With the success she had from this book her career as a poet began. She also won some fellowships so she got some money as well.  She met Robert Lowell, a poet, who would become a really good friend and romantic interest for a while.  He influenced her poetry and her life.  When he brought up the subject of marriage she avoided him. Elizabeth would not acknowledge her homosexuality (Millier 187).

In 1951 she went to visit some friends in Brazil and she decided to live there.  She stayed with her friend Lota Soares who helped her get over her depression but her alcoholism still persisted.  Elizabeth stayed for ten years in Brazil.  During this time she published no poems for three years but when she finally wrote she won the Pulitzer Prize. She also started writing about Brazil and about her childhood.  On June of 1961 she accepted an offer to write the Brazil volume; a text 3,500 words in exchange for "$10,000, an expense account for travel within Brazil and a trip to New York." (Millier 324)  Writing this book overwhelmed her, she fell behind on her deadlines, people were putting pressure on her to finish it and she did not even have time to travel around Brazil.  She finished the book in November but she had said several times that she should not have accepted the job.  During a trip to Seattle she met Suzanne Bowen "the twenty-six year old pregnant wife of a local painter who became her friend, care-giver and finally lover."(Millier 378)  Elizabeth taught a Modern poetry class during 1966, she had a hard time but she was very dedicated to teaching.  Elizabeth started having trouble with Lota, they argued a lot, Lota had become controlling and a harsh critic of Elizabeth.  Lota was suffering from depression and as well as physical illness, she took an overdose of tranquilizers and was hospitalized; she died. 

Suzanne, her son and Elizabeth moved in together in San Francisco.  They would not discuss Elizabeth's alcoholism and would not publicly acknowledge their relationship.  "For public purposes, Elizabeth and Suzanne defined their relationship as employer assistant; Elizabeth introduced Suzanne as "my secretary" and Suzanne called Elizabeth "Miss Bishop." (Millier 401)  Elizabeth returned to Brazil in 1969 with Suzanne, in hopes that her life would get better. Things had changed in Brazil; the people she knew were gone or angry with her.  Everything seemed to go wrong including her relationship with Suzanne.  They had conflicts with "the age difference, Suzanne's economic dependence, Elizabeth's emotional dependence," and Elizabeth's impatience with Suzanne's three year old son (Millier 420).  The people criticized their relationship.  Elizabeth suffered from paranoia, delirium tremens and hallucinations.  She was drinking almost everyday.  She wrote poetry, although she did translations.  She sought medical help.  Suzanne also had emotional and mental problems and eventually went insane. During the last years of Elizabeth's life her poems were personal.  In 1970 Elizabeth met Alice Methfessel.  She became dependent on Alice for the rest of her life.  They traveled a lot and Elizabeth was teaching again.  Elizabeth had a hernia, which bled a lot and caused her to get anemia.  Elizabeth Bishop died on October 6, 1979. 

Works Cited

Millier, Brett C. Elizabeth Bishop: Life and Memory of it. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.

Schwoartz, Lloyd and Sybil P. Estess; eds. Elizabeth Bishop and her Art. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1983.

Stevenson, Anne. Elizabeth Bishop. New York: Twayne, 1966.

Study Questions

1. "The Man-Moth"

(a) This is but one of Bishop's many dream poems. In what ways does Bishop demonstrate her interest in and reliance upon surrealism?

(b) How does Bishop attempt to humanize her exile through a multitude of sensory impressions? Are they effective?

(c) The final stanza addresses the reader. How does Bishop in- tensify her creature's humanity through his ultimate vulnerability? Are we made to feel like the man-moth?

2. "Filling Station"

(a) As Bishop describes setting and inhabitants of this "family filling station," she deliberately builds upon the initial observation, "Oh, but it is dirty!" Why dwell upon and develop this commentary? Does it suggest a missing family member? Is this station without a feminine presence?

(b) The scale of the poem seems deliberately diminutive. Does this intensify the feminine quality of the poem? Is this intentional?

(c) The closing stanza returns a sense of order or at least purpose to this scene. The symmetry of the cans lulls the "high-strung automobiles" into calmness. With the final line, "Somebody loves us all," does Bishop suggest a religious or maternal caretaker for this family?

3. Describe the voice and tone in a single poem. The casual humor of Bishop's world is often missed by casual readers (obsessed with travel and loss as themes).

4. Many of Elizabeth Bishop's poems concern themselves with loss and exile. Examine the relationship between biography and specific poems in which these themes dominate. Then test the following statement from the Bishop headnote: "her remarkable formal gifts allowed her to create ordered and lucid structures that hold strong feelings in place."

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 10: Elizabeth Bishop." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: http://www.paulreuben.website/pal/chap10/bishop.html (provide page date or date of your login).

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