Elizabeth Bishop Poetry
The Art Of Poetry
March 27, 2021
Elizabeth Bishop was a poet and a painter who was born in 1911 and died in 1979. She lost her father before she was one year old, and due to this, her mother experienced mental breakdowns that finally had her committed to a mental hospital (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). She lived with relatives since that time till she went to college at Vassar (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). This essay will discuss four of her poems and find parallels between the work and Bishop’s life.
In her poem One Art, Elizabeth Bishop touches on loss and says that mastering loss is not difficult. Further, she mentions that many things seem intent on being lost, that their loss should not be so catastrophic to the one who loses. Bishop had dealt with immense loss in her life since childhood, from her father, her mother, her innocence, and much later in life beloved friends and lovers that she felt the need to mock loss or the feelings that come with loss (Gadpaille & Onič, 2019). In the poem, she writes, “accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master” (Bishop, 1983). These words point to her desire to accept loss as part of life so that when one experiences it, they are not consumed by the loss but can move on. In the last stanza, Bishop seems to be speaking of someone’s specific loss, which is speculated to be her lover who left her. She says to the other person and tells them that even losing them is not too hard to master, seemingly ready to accept the loss and move on (Bishop, 1983).
I also noted from the poem that Bishop downplays the pain and suffering brought on by loss in the first stanza, convincing the reader that loss is not the worst thing. However, as the poem progresses, the loss gets bigger, the pain gets heavier, and the reader experiences this progression as the poem roars into a crescendo (Gadpaille & Onič, 2019). This could be her way of processing all her losses throughout her life, first being in denial, and eventually feeling all the loss and impact.
In The Mountain, Elizabeth Bishop seems to be talking of loneliness, solitude, time, growth, and aging. The poem gives voice to a mountain, which observes its life from the evening as the sun sets to morning, described as an “open book,” describing the happenings of its surrounding (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). The mountain then wonders how old it is. Bishop might have been discussing the fears of being older and fearing that most of the things happening in the world are passing her by. In this way, the theme of time and aging comes into the picture. Every human is afraid of the aging process. More so, humans who can see their twilight years ahead of them are more afraid because they observe as everything grows and everything changes around them.
Secondly, Bishop demonstrates the mountain’s solitude by describing how shadows fall, and lights rise and how the children never stay long enough (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). This is to demonstrate that no one stays long enough to offer the lone mountain any comfort. In her life, Elizabeth Bishop experienced extreme loneliness. Since her childhood, Bishop had had no one to talk to even in the face of sexual assault and other abuses, and she kept that same life till her later years. Most people came and went into and out of Bishop’s life, such that once she described to someone that she was the loneliest person. This loneliness inspired the words in this poem.
In The Moose, Bishop describes a bus journey where the travelers are having a lull conversation about a dark subject matter such as failure and death (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). However, the bus stops in the middle of the road because a moose stops in the middle of the road. This stop wakes the passengers from their conversation and brings a brighter attitude into the bus. The poem is highly descriptive of nature, both of the Nova Scotia coastal environment where Bishop had grown up and the current forested road that the bus traveled on. These descriptions may be representative of her former years when Bishop lived in Worcester and Nova Scotia. As the bus rolls on the road, a moose comes out of the woods and awakens the passengers from their dull existence. This could be demonstrative of a specific experience in her life which was both “ugly and beautiful,” that jolted her awake. Bishop had many such incidents in her life, from love affairs to experiencing failure and even losing her friends and lovers. Such events can jostle one awake and give them a bit of perspective about life and its importance.
The fourth poem by Elizabeth bishop is A Miracle for Breakfast, which describes a poor person’s thoughts as they observe the life of a rich person. The narrator watches a rich man from outside his house, where the narrator and other poor people are waiting to be served breakfast from a charity center (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). There is a shift in the poem where the narrator imagines herself to be rich and can afford the comforts afforded by the rich man (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). In the poem, Bishop demonstrates how appreciative they are, who lack, and how often those who have the best things do not appreciate them. In her own life, Bishop was taken by her father’s family and lived in Worcester after her father died and her mother had been committed to a mental hospital. However, her new wealthy family lacked warmth and was filled with dysfunction, which led her to fall sick quite often (Poetry Foundation, n.d.). Elizabeth had to be taken by her mother’s sisters, who were not as affluent but nursed her back to health. This shows the divide that can be there in life between the rich and the poor, and Bishop descriptively tells this story.
In conclusion, there are many parallels that we can draw between Elizabeth Bishop’s life and her poetry. She wrote about her losses, her life, and most importantly, her observations of the life surrounding her.
Bishop, Elizabeth. “One Art.” Elizabeth Bishop The Complete Poems: 178. New York, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983
Gadpaille, M., & Onič, T. (2019). Elizabeth Bishop and the Villanelle: One Art, an Ocean, and Two Languages. Primerjalna Knjizevnost, 69-86.
Poetry Foundation, (n.d.). Elizabeth Bishop. Retrieved from Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/elizabeth-bishop
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