Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop Poems

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,
...

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
...

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
...

At six o'clock we were waiting for coffee,
waiting for coffee and the charitable crumb
that was going to be served from a certain balcony
- like kings of old, or like a miracle.
...

The brown enormous odor he lived by
was too close, with its breathing and thick hair,
for him to judge. The floor was rotten; the sty
was plastered halfway up with glass-smooth dung.
...

September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
...

The state with the prettiest name,
the state that floats in brackish water,
held together by mangrave roots
that bear while living oysters in clusters,
...

The moon in the bureau mirror
looks out a million miles
(and perhaps with pride, at herself,
but she never, never smiles)
...

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
...

Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
...

In the cold, cold parlor
my mother laid out Arthur
beneath the chromographs:
Edward, Prince of Wales,
...

Oh, but it is dirty!
--this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
...

Alone on the railroad track
I walked with pounding heart.
The ties were too close together
or maybe too far apart.
...

Each day with so much ceremony
begins, with birds, with bells,
with whistles from a factory;
such white-gold skies our eyes
...

Still dark.
The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
The little dog next door barks in his sleep
inquiringly, just once.
...

Out on the high "bird islands," Ciboux and Hertford,
the razorbill auks and the silly-looking puffins all stand
with their backs to the mainland
in solemn, uneven lines along the cliff's brown grass-frayed edge,
...

Earliest morning, switching all the tracks
that cross the sky from cinder star to star,
coupling the ends of streets
to trains of light.
...

The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions.
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
in the same tone of voice.
...

To the sagging wharf
few ships could come.
The population numbered
two giants, an idiot, a dwarf,
...

Unfunny uncles who insist
in trying on a lady's hat,
--oh, even if the joke falls flat,
we share your slight transvestite twist
...

Elizabeth Bishop Biography

Elizabeth Bishop was an American poet and short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia dedicated to her memory. She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century. Early Years Elizabeth Bishop, an only child, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. After her father, a successful builder, died when she was eight months old, Bishop’s mother became mentally ill and was institutionalized in 1916. (Bishop wrote about the time of her mother's struggles in her short story "In The Village.") Effectively orphaned during her very early childhood, she lived with her grandparents on a farm in Great Village, Nova Scotia, a period she also referenced in her writing. This was also where she developed into a first-class fisherwoman. Bishop's mother remained in an asylum until her death in 1934, and the two were never reunited. Later in childhood, Bishop's paternal family gained custody, and she was removed from the care of her grandparents and moved in with her father's wealthier family in Worcester, Massachusetts. However, Bishop was unhappy in Worcester, and her separation from her grandparents made her lonely. While she was living in Worcester, she developed chronic asthma, from which she suffered for the rest of her life. Her time in Worcester is briefly chronicled in her poem "In The Waiting Room." Bishop boarded at the Walnut Hill School in Natick, Massachusetts, where she studied music. At the school her first poems were published by her friend Frani Blough in a student magazine. Then she entered Vassar College in the fall of 1929, shortly before the stock market crash, planning to be a composer. She gave up music because of a terror of performance and switched to English where she took courses including 16th and 17th century literature and the novel. Bishop published her work in her senior year in The Magazine (based in California) and 1933, she co-founded Con Spirito, a rebel literary magazine at Vassar, with writer Mary McCarthy (one year her senior), Margaret Miller, and the sisters Eunice and Eleanor Clark. Bishop graduated in 1934. Influences Bishop was greatly influenced by the poet Marianne Moore to whom she was introduced by a librarian at Vassar in 1934. Moore took a keen interest in Bishop’s work, and at one point Moore dissuaded Bishop from attending Cornell Medical School, in which the poet had briefly enrolled herself after moving to New York City following her Vassar graduation. It was four years before Bishop addressed "Dear Miss Moore" as "Dear Marianne," and only then at the elder poet’s invitation. The friendship between the two women, memorialized by an extensive correspondence (see One Art), endured until Moore's death in 1972. Bishop's "At the Fishhouses" (1955) contains allusions on several levels to Moore's 1924 poem "A Grave." She was introduced to Robert Lowell by Randall Jarrell in 1947 and they became great friends, mostly through their written correspondence, until Lowell's death in 1977. After his death, she wrote, "our friendship, [which was] often kept alive through years of separation only by letters, remained constant and affectionate, and I shall always be deeply grateful for it". They also both influenced each other's poetry. Lowell cited Bishop's influence on his poem "Skunk Hour" which he said, "[was] modeled on Miss Bishop's 'The Armadillo.'" Also, his poem "The Scream" is "derived from...Bishop's story In the Village." "North Haven," one of the last poems she published during her lifetime, was written in memory of Lowell in 1978. Travel and Success Bishop had an independent income in early adulthood as a result of an inheritance from her deceased father that did not run out until the end of her life. With this inheritance, Bishop was able to travel widely without worrying about employment and lived in many cities and countries which are described in her poems. She lived in France for several years in the mid-1930s with a friend she knew at Vassar, Louise Crane, who was a paper-manufacturing heiress. In 1938, Bishop purchased a house with Crane at 624 White Street in Key West, Florida. While living there Bishop made the acquaintance of Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, who had divorced Ernest Hemingway in 1940. In 1949 to 1950, she was Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress, and lived at Bertha Looker's Boardinghouse, 1312 30th Street Northwest, Washington, D.C., in Georgetown. In 1946, Marianne Moore suggested Bishop for the Houghton Mifflin Prize for poetry, which Bishop won. Her first book, North & South, was published in 1,000 copies. The book prompted the literary critic Randall Jarrell to write that “all her poems have written underneath, 'I have seen it,'" referring to Bishop's talent for vivid description. Upon receiving a substantial $2,500 traveling fellowship from Bryn Mawr College in 1951, Bishop set off to circumnavigate South America by boat. Arriving in Santos, Brazil in November of that year, Bishop expected to stay two weeks but stayed fifteen years. She lived in Pétropolis with architect Lota de Macedo Soares, descended from a prominent and notable political family. While living in Brazil, in 1956 Bishop received the Pulitzer Prize for a collection of poetry, Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring, which combined her first two books. Although Bishop was not forthcoming about details of her romance with Soares, much of their relationship was documented in Bishop's extensive correspondence with Samuel Ashley Brown. However, in its later years, the relationship deteriorated, becoming volatile and tempestuous, marked by bouts of depression, tantrums and alcoholism. It was during her time in Brazil that Elizabeth Bishop became increasingly interested in the languages and literatures of Latin America. She was influenced by South and Central American poets, including the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, as well as the Brazilian poets João Cabral de Melo Neto and Carlos Drummond de Andrade and translated their work into English. Regarding de Andrade, she said, "I didn't know him at all. He's supposed to be very shy. I'm supposed to be very shy. We've met once — on the sidewalk at night. We had just come out of the same restaurant, and he kissed my hand politely when we were introduced." After Soares took her own life in 1967 Bishop spent more time in the US. Literary Style and Identity Bishop did not see herself as a "lesbian poet" or as a "female poet." Although she still considered herself to be "a strong feminist," she only wanted to be judged based on the quality of her writing and not on her gender or sexual orientation. Also, where some of her notable contemporaries like Robert Lowell and John Berryman made the intimate, often sordid details of their personal lives an important part of their poetry, Bishop avoided this practice altogether. For instance, like Berryman, Bishop struggled with alcoholism and depression throughout her adult life; but Bishop never wrote about this struggle (whereas Berryman made his alcoholism and depression a focal point in his dream song poems). In contrast to this confessional style involving large amounts of self-exposure, Bishop's style of writing, though it sometimes involved sparse details from her personal life, was known for its highly detailed and objective, distant point of view and for its reticence on the sordid subject matter that obsessed her contemporaries. In contrast to a poet like Lowell, when Bishop wrote about details and people from her own life (as she did in her story about her childhood and her mentally unstable mother in "In the Village"), she always used discretion. Although she was generally supportive of the "confessional" style of her friend, Robert Lowell, she drew the line at Lowell's highly controversial book The Dolphin (1973), in which he used and altered private letters from his ex-wife, Elizabeth Hardwick (whom he'd recently divorced after 23 years of marriage), as material for his poems. In a letter to Lowell, dated March 21, 1972, Bishop strongly urged him against publishing the book, writing, "One can use one's life as material [for poems]--one does anyway—but these letters—aren't you violating a trust? IF you were given permission—IF you hadn't changed them. . .etc. But art just isn't worth that much." Later Career In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize, Bishop won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as two Guggenheim Fellowships and an Ingram Merrill Foundation grant. In 1976, she became the first woman to receive the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and remains the only American to be awarded that prize. Bishop lectured in higher education for a number of years starting in the 1970s when her inheritance began to run out. For a short time she taught at the University of Washington, before teaching at Harvard University for seven years. She often spent her summers in her summer house in the island community of North Haven, Maine. She taught at New York University, before finishing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She commented "I don’t think I believe in writing courses at all… It’s true, children sometimes write wonderful things, paint wonderful pictures, but I think they should be discouraged." In 1971 Bishop began a relationship with Alice Methfessel. Never a prolific writer, Bishop noted that she would begin many projects and leave them unfinished. She published her last book in 1976, Geography III. Three years later, she died of a cerebral aneurysm in her apartment at Lewis Wharf, Boston. She is buried in Hope Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts. Alice Methfessel was her literary executor. Awards and Honors 1945: Houghton Mifflin Poetry Prize Fellowship 1947: Guggenheim Fellowship 1949: Appointed Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress 1950: American Academy of Arts and Letters Award 1951: Lucy Martin Donelly Fellowship (awarded by Bryn Mawr College) 1953: Shelley Memorial Award 1954: Elected to lifetime membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters 1956: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 1960: Chapelbrook Foundation Award 1964: Academy of American Poets Fellowship 1968: Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1968: Ingram-Merrill Foundation Grant 1969: National Book Award 1969: The Order of the Rio Branco (awarded by the Brazilian government) 1974: Harriet Monroe Poetry Award 1976: Books Abroad/Neustadt International Prize 1976: Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters 1977: National Book Critics Circle Award 1978: Guggenheim Fellowship)

The Best Poem Of Elizabeth Bishop

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop Comments

Lisa Bray 24 April 2009

my moms grandparents was named bishop?

42 143 Reply
James Mcgrath 27 July 2009

I personally love Bishop's work and find it hard to believe that others find it difficult to comprehend. She paints such a clear picture, creating the a link between herself and the reader. This is evident through her intense eye for detail. She is truly a wonderful poet of our time.

109 62 Reply
Tim Martin 23 August 2009

Argh! Webmasters! ...please get that 'a' out of the last line of 'One Art' (right before 'disaster') . Incorrect, and ruins the poem!

62 99 Reply
John Whiting 27 July 2022

I totally agree, it makes me feel very annoyed. It changes the intent of the poet, but "ruins the poem! " may be over stated.

1 0
Linda Corrales 24 October 2005

I do not like her poem the fish. It is getting on my nerves because we have to write a paper on it and I am struggling.

24 68 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 03 February 2024

CONGRATS with your QUOTE Of The DAY: Should we have stayed home and thought of here? Powerful words!

1 0 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 30 November 2021

Congratulations beimng chosen as The Poet Of The Day. I am very happy, since EB is my favourite poetess when I was still studying Literature.

1 0 Reply
Chowder Bot $ 21 October 2021

You take the moon and you take the moon and you take the moon and you take the moon

1 0 Reply
Paul Amrod 29 November 2020

The poetry of this poetes is are gorgeous as the morning dew and inherent to the tradition of excellent poets born in Massachusetts.

1 0 Reply
Lyzbeth 11 September 2020

I was wondering if Elizabeth Bishop had a middle name...nobody seems to know?

1 0 Reply

Elizabeth Bishop Quotes

All my life I have lived and behaved very much like [the] sandpiper—just running down the edges of different countries and continents, "looking for something" ... having spent most of my life timorously seeking for subsistence along the coastlines of the world.

“If after I read a poem the world looks like that poem for 24 hours or so Im sure its a good one—and the same goes for paintings. ”

“Close, close all night the lovers keep. They turn together in their sleep, Close as two pages in a book that read each other in the dark. Each knows all the other knows, learned by heart from head to toes.”

“Oh, must we dream our dreams and have them, too?”

“I was made at right angles to the world and I see it so. I can only see it so.”

“Think of the long trip home. Should we have stayed home and thought of here? Where should we be today?”

“Open the book. (The gilt rubs off the edges of the pages and pollinates the fingertips.)”

“Time to plant tears, says the almanac. The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove and the child draws another inscrutable house.”

“But he sleeps on the top of his mast with his eyes closed tight. The gull inquired into his dream, which was, "I must not fall. The spangled sea below wants me to fall. It is hard as diamonds; it wants to destroy us all.”

“Hoping to live days of greater happiness, I forget that days of less happiness are passing by.”

“Why shouldnt we, so generally addicted to the gigantic, at last have some small works of art, some short poems, short pieces of music [...], some intimate, low-voiced, and delicate things in our mostly huge and roaring, glaring world?”

“The armored cars of dreams, contrived to let us do so many a dangerous thing.”

“The art of losing isnt hard to master.”

“All the untidy activity continues, awful but cheerful.”

“Being a poet is one of the unhealthier jobs--no regular hours, so many temptations!”

“I knew that nothing stranger had ever happened, that nothing stranger could ever happen.”

“Each night he must be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams. Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie his rushing brain. He does not dare look out the window,for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison, runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease he has inherited the susceptibility to. He has to keep his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.”

“...what the Man-Moth fears most he must do..”

“Icebergs behoove the soul (both being self-made from elements least visible) to see themselves: fleshed, fair, erected, indivisible.”

“Is it right to be watching strangers in a play / in this strangest of theatres? / What childishness is it that while theres a breath of life / in our bodies, we are determined to rush / to see the sun the other way around? ”

“One shouldnt get too involved with people who cant possibly understand one”

“But they made me realize more than I ever had the rarity of true originality, and also the sort of alienation it might involve.”

“--Even losing you (a joking voice, a gesture/ I love) I shant have lied. Its evident/ the art of losings not too hard to master/ though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”

“Loves the son stood stammering elocution while the poor ship in flames went down”

“I leave a lovely opalescent ribbon: I know this.”

“Should we have stayed home and thought of here?”

“[Marianne Moore] once remarked, after a visit to her brother and his family, that the state of being married and having children had one enormous advantage: "One never has to worry about whether one is doing the right thing or not. There isnt time. One is always having to go to the market or drive the children somewhere. There isnt time to wonder Is this right or isnt it?”

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