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.
About the size of an old-style dollar bill,
American or Canadian,
mostly the same whites, gray greens, and steel grays
-this little painting (a sketch for a larger one?)
has never earned any money in its life.
Useless and free., it has spent seventy years
as a minor family relic handed along collaterally to owners
who looked at it sometimes, or didn't bother to.
It must be Nova Scotia; only there
does one see abled wooden houses
painted that awful shade of brown.
The other houses, the bits that show, are white.
Elm trees., low hills, a thin church steeple
-that gray-blue wisp-or is it? In the foreground
a water meadow with some tiny cows,
two brushstrokes each, but confidently cows;
two minuscule white geese in the blue water,
back-to-back,, feeding, and a slanting stick.
Up closer, a wild iris, white and yellow,
fresh-squiggled from the tube.
The air is fresh and cold; cold early spring
clear as gray glass; a half inch of blue sky
below the steel-gray storm clouds.
(They were the artist's specialty.)
A specklike bird is flying to the left.
Or is it a flyspeck looking like a bird?
Heavens, I recognize the place, I know it!
It's behind-I can almost remember the farmer's name.
His barn backed on that meadow. There it is,
titanium white, one dab. The hint of steeple,
filaments of brush-hairs, barely there,
must be the Presbyterian church.
Would that be Miss Gillespie's house?
Those particular geese and cows
are naturally before my time.
A sketch done in an hour, "in one breath,"
once taken from a trunk and handed over.
Would you like this? I'll Probably never
have room to hang these things again.
Your Uncle George, no, mine, my Uncle George,
he'd be your great-uncle, left them all with Mother
when he went back to England.
You know, he was quite famous, an R.A....
I never knew him. We both knew this place,
apparently, this literal small backwater,
looked at it long enough to memorize it,
our years apart. How strange. And it's still loved,
or its memory is (it must have changed a lot).
Our visions coincided-"visions" is
too serious a word-our looks, two looks:
art "copying from life" and life itself,
life and the memory of it so compressed
they've turned into each other. Which is which?
Life and the memory of it cramped,
dim, on a piece of Bristol board,
dim, but how live, how touching in detail
-the little that we get for free,
the little of our earthly trust. Not much.
About the size of our abidance
along with theirs: the munching cows,
the iris, crisp and shivering, the water
still standing from spring freshets,
the yet-to-be-dismantled elms, the geese.
Questions of Travel
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:
"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?
Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"
During her lifetime, poet Elizabeth Bishop was a respected yet somewhat obscure figure in the world of American literature. Since her death in 1979, however, her reputation has grown to the point that many critics, like Larry Rohter in the New York Times, have referred to her as "one of the most important American poets" of the twentieth century. Bishop was a perfectionist who did not write prolifically, preferring instead to spend long periods of time polishing her work. She published only 101 poems during her lifetime. Her verse is marked by precise descriptions of the physical world and an air of poetic serenity, but her underlying themes include the struggle to find a sense of belonging, and the human experiences of grief and longing.
Bishop, an only child, experienced upheaval at a tender age. Her father died before she was a year old. Her mother suffered through serious bouts of mental instability and was permanently committed to an institution when Elizabeth was only five years old. The poet never saw her mother again. She was taken at first by her maternal grandparents, who lived in Nova Scotia, Canada. After some years, however, her paternal grandparents took charge of her. They were well-to-do inhabitants of Massachusetts, and expressed their concern over the limited financial and educational resources available in Nova Scotia. Under their guardianship, Bishop was sent to the elite Walnut Hills School for Girls and to Vassar College.
Her years at Vassar were tremendously important to Bishop. There she met Marianne Moore, a fellow poet who also became a lifelong friend. Working with a group of students that included Mary McCarthy, Eleanor Clark, and Margaret Miller, she founded the short-lived but influential literary journal Con Spirito, which was conceived as an alternative to the well-established Vassar Review. After graduating, Bishop lived in New York and traveled extensively in France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, and North Africa. Her poetry is filled with descriptions of her journeys and the sights she saw. In 1938, she moved to Key West, where she wrote many of the poems that eventually were collected in her Pulitzer Prize-winning North and South. In 1944 she left Key West, and for fourteen years she lived in Brazil, where she and her lover, the architect Lota de Macedo Soares, became a curiosity in the town of Pétropolis. After Soares took her own life in 1967, Bishop spent less time in Brazil than in New York, San Francisco, and Massachusetts, where she took a teaching position at Harvard in 1970. That same year, she received a National Book Award in Poetry for The Complete Poems. Her reputation increased greatly in the years just prior to her death, particularly after the 1976 publication of Geography III and her winning of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.
Bishop worked as a painter as well as a poet, and her verse, like visual art, is known for its ability to capture significant scenes. Though she was independently wealthy and thus enjoyed a life of some privilege, much of her poetry celebrates working-class settings: busy factories, farms, and fishing villages. Analyzing her small but significant body of work for Bold Type, Ernie Hilbert wrote: "Bishop's poetics is one distinguished by tranquil observation, craft-like accuracy, care for the small things of the world, a miniaturist's discretion and attention. Unlike the pert and wooly poetry that came to dominate American literature by the second half of her life, her poems are balanced like Alexander Calder mobiles, turning so subtly as to seem almost still at first, every element, every weight of meaning and song, poised flawlessly against the next."
Poet, author of prose, and translator. Library of Congress, Washington, DC, consultant in poetry, 1949-50, honorary consultant in American Letters, beginning in 1958; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, instructor, beginning 1970.
North & South (also see below), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1946, reprinted, 1964.
Poems: North & South [and] A Cold Spring, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1955, abridged edition published as Poems, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1956.
Questions of Travel, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1965.
Selected Poems, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1967.
The Ballad of the Burglar of Babylon, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968.
The Complete Poems, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969.
Geography III, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1976.
The Complete Poems, 1927-1979, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1983.
Edgar Allen Poe & the Juke-box, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to anthologies, including Trial Balances, edited by Ann Winslow, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1935.
(Translator from the Portuguese) Alice Brant, The Diary of "Helena Morley," Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1957, reprinted, 1995.
(With the editors of Life) Brazil, Time, Inc. (New York, NY), 1962.
(Editor, with Emanuel Brasil) An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Brazilian Poetry, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1972.
(Translator, with G. Aroul) Octavio Paz, Selected Poems of Octavio Paz, New Directions, 1984.
The Collected Prose, edited and introduced by Robert Giroux, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.
(With Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell) Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1989.
One Art: Letters, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.
(Translator) Joao C. De Melo Neto, Selected Poetry, 1937-1990, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1995.
Exchanging Hats: Thirty-nine Paintings, edited by William Benton, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
(With George Monteiro) Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop (interviews), University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1996.
(Editor, with Joel Conarroe and Theodore Roethke) Eight American Poets: An Anthology, Vintage Books, 1997.
Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop (edited by Saskia Hamilton), Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010.
Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence (edited by Joelle Bispiel), Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011.
Also translator, with others, of Travelling in the Family by Carlos Drummond. Contributor of poetry and fiction to periodicals, including Kenyon Review, New Republic, Partisan Review, and Poetry. Co-founder of Con Spirito.
Bishop, Elizabeth, and George Monteiro, Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop (interviews), University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1996.
Blasing, Mutlu Konuk, Politics and Form in Postmodern Poetry: O'Hara, Bishop, Ashbery, and Merrill, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Brower, Reuben A., editor, Twentieth-Century Literature in Retrospect, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1971.
Contemporary Authors Bibliographical Series, Volume 2: American Poets, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 9, 1978, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 15, 1980, Volume 32, 1985.
Contemporary Poetry in America, edited by Robert Boyers, Schocken (New York, NY), 1974.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Fountain, Gary, and Peter Brazeau, Remembering Elizabeth Bishop: An Oral Biography, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1994.
Frankenberg, Lloyd, Pleasure Dome: On Reading Modern Poetry, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1949.
Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Travelling between the Wars, Oxford University Press, 1980.
Gay and Lesbian Biography, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Jarrell, Randall, Poetry and the Age, Random House (New York, NY), 1953.
Jarrell, Randall, Third Book of Criticism, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969.
Kalstone, David, Five Temperaments: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Oxford University Press, 1977.
Lombardi, Marilyn May, The Body and the Song: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics, Southern Illinois University (Carbondale, IL), 1995.
MacMahon, Candace, editor, Elizabeth Bishop: A Bibliography, 1927-1979, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 1980.
Mazzaro, Jerome, Postmodern American Poetry, University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 1980.
McCabe, Susan, Elizabeth Bishop: Her Poetics of Loss, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, PA), 1994.
Millier, Brett C., Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It, University of California Press, 1995.
Molesworth, Charles, The Fierce Embrace: A Study of Contemporary American Poetry, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1979.
Pinsky, Robert, The Situation of Poetry, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1976.
Poet's Choice, edited by Paul Engle and Joseph Langland, Dial (New York, NY), 1962.
Rosenthal, M. L., The Modern Poets, Oxford University Press, 1960.
Schwartz, Lloyd, and Sybil P. Estess, editors, Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1983.
Shigley, Sally Bishop, Dazzling Dialectics: Elizabeth Bishop's Resonating Feminist Reality, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1997.
Stepanchev, Stephen, American Poetry since 1945: A Critical Survey, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.
Stevenson, Anne, Elizabeth Bishop, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1966.
Swenson, May, Dear Elizabeth: Five Poems and Three Letters to Elizabeth Bishop, Utah State University Press (Logan, UT), 2000.
Vendler, Helen, Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1980.
von Hallberg, Robert, American Poetry and Culture, 1945-1980, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1985.
Winslow, Ann, editor, Trial Balances, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1935.
Wylie, Diana E., Elizabeth Bishop and Howard Nemerov: A Reference Guide, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1983.
America, February 19, 1994, p. 21.
American Literature, March, 1982; October, 1983.
American Poetry Review, March-April, 1978; January-February, 1980; January-February, 1985.
Antaeus, winter-spring, 1981.
Antioch Review, summer, 1981.
Arizona Quarterly, Volume 32, 1976; winter, 1982.
Atlantic, January, 1966.
Bloomsbury Review, November-December, 1996, p. 5.
Books Abroad, winter, 1967.
Book Week, February 20, 1966.
Book World, April 27, 1969.
Boston Review, April, 1983.
Canadian Literature, autumn, 2000, Richard Sanger, "High Seas: Elizabeth Bishop Returns Home," p. 113.
Canadian Poetry, fall-winter, 1980.
Canto, winter, 1977.
Centennial Review, winter, 1978; winter, 1981.
Chicago Review, Volume 18, numbers 3-4, 1966.
Chicago Tribune Book World, April 1, 1984.
Christian Science Monitor, January 6, 1966.
CLA Journal, June, 2000, Zhou Xiaojing, "'Constant Readjustment' 'Experience-Time' in Elizabeth Bishop's Poems," p. 420.
College English, February, 1959.
Commonweal, February 15, 1957.
Contemporary Literature, winter, 1971; fall, 1984; summer, 1985; summer, 1999, Bethany Hicok, "Elizabeth Bishop's 'Queer Birds': Vassar, Con Spirito, and the Romance of Female Community," p. 286.
Dublin Magazine, January-March, 1957.
Encounter, December, 1983.
Explicator, spring, 2000, Kathleen More, "Bishop's 'Cape Breton,'" p. 161.
Field, fall, 1984.
George Herbert Journal, spring, 1982.
Grand Street, autumn, 1983.
Hollins Critic, February, 1977.
Hudson Review, autumn, 1956.
Independent Sunday (London, England), September 14, 1997, Lavinia Greenlaw, review of Exchanging Hats: Paintings by Elizabeth Bishop, p. 34.
Iowa Review, winter, 1979.
Kenyon Review, Volume 19, number 2, 1957; Volume 28, number 2, 1966.
Library Journal, September 1, 2000, Rochelle Ratner, review of Elizabeth Bishop (audio cassette), p. 274.
Life, July 4, 1969.
Listener, November 30, 1967; June 2, 1983.
London Magazine, March 1968.
London Review of Books, May 7, 1984.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 17, 1983; February 19, 1984.
Massachusetts Review, autumn, 1970; autumn, 1982; summer, 1983.
Michigan Quarterly Review, winter, 1977.
Modern Poetry Studies, winter, 1975; spring, 1977; winter, 1977.
Mosaic (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), June, 2000, Ernesto Suarez-Toste, "Une Machine a Coudre Manuelle: Elizabeth Bishop's 'Everyday Surrealism,'" p. 143.
Nation, September 28, 1946.
New England Quarterly, June, 1956; December, 1984.
New Leader, December 6, 1965; May 9, 1994, p. 14.
New Republic, October 21, 1946; April 9, 1966; February 5, 1977; November 10, 1979; April 4, 1983; March 19, 1984; August 8, 1994, p. 29.
New Statesman, April 6, 1984.
Newsweek, January 31, 1977; March 14, 1982; February 13, 1984.
New Yorker, October 5, 1946; October 8, 1955; May 29, 1978; September 30, 1991, p. 85; March 28, 1994, p. 82.
New York Herald Tribune Book Review, September 4, 1955.
New York Review of Books, October 12, 1967; June 9, 1977; January 13, 1994, p. 15; June 9, 1994, p. 39.
New York Times, January 22, 1977; December 13, 1981, Paul L. Montgomery, "Vassar Acquires Papers of the Poet Elizabeth Bishop," p. 39; February 12, 1983; January 5, 1984; July 8, 2001, Margo Jefferson, "We Are All Tourists," p. 27; August 6, 2001, Larry Rohter, "Brazilian Renaissance for an American Poet," p. E1.
New York Times Book Review, July 17, 1955; May 5, 1968; January 7, 1973; February 6, 1977; December 3, 1978; February 27, 1983, David Bromwich, review of The Complete Poems, and "Elizabeth Bishop and Her Art," p. 7; January 15, 1984; April 17, 1994, p. 1.
Observer (London), April 8, 1984; April 24, 1995, p. 24.
Paris Review, summer, 1981.
Parnassus, spring-summer, 1973; fall-winter, 1976; spring-summer, 1977.
Partisan Review, winter, 1956; spring, 1970.
Ploughshares, Volume 2, number 4, 1975; Volume 3, numbers 3 and 4, 1977; Volume 5, number 1, 1979; Volume 6, number 2, 1980.
PN Review, February, 1984.
Poetry, December, 1955; March, 1979; December, 1990, p. 159.
Poetry Review, June, 1983.
Publishers Weekly, July 7, 1945.
Raritan, summer, 1984; winter, 2000, Anne Ferry, "The Anthologizing of Elizabeth Bishop," p. 37.
Restaurants & Institutions, June 15, 1999, Jennifer McGeary, "Vintage Memories," p. 22.
Salmagundi, summer-fall, 1974.
Saturday Review, January 18, 1958.
Sewanee Review, summer, 1947; spring, 1978; winter, 1998, review of Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop, p. R18.
Shenandoah, Volume 17, number 2, 1966; Volume 33, number 1, 1981-82.
South Atlantic Quarterly, summer, 1983.
South Carolina Review, November, 1977.
Southern Review, autumn, 1977.
Style, fall, 2000, Martin Bidney, "'Controlled Panic': Mastering the Terrors of Dissolution and Isolation in Elizabeth Bishop's Epiphanies," p. 487.
Time, April 25, 1994, p. 82.
Times Literary Supplement, November 23, 1967; March 7, 1980; August 28, 1981; June 3, 1983; April 27, 1984; February 20, 1998, review of Exchanging Hats, p. 36.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 24, 1994, p. 19.
Twentieth-Century Literature, Volume 11, number 4, 1966; Volume 28, number 4, 1982.
Utne Reader, May-June, 1999, Edward Hirsch, "How to Read a Poem," p. 89.
Vanity Fair, June, 1983.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1966; autumn, 1969; spring, 1984.
Wall Street Journal, January 12, 1984, Ellen Wilson, review of The Collected Prose, p. 22.
Washington Post Book World, February 20, 1983; May 1, 1994, p. 5.
World Literature Today, winter, 1977.
Young Readers Review, September, 1968.
Academy of American Poets Web site, http://www.poets.org/ (September 10, 2001), "Elizabeth Bishop."
Bold Type, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (September 10, 2001), Ernie Hilbert, "Elizabeth Bishop."
Chicago Tribune, October 9, 1979.
New York Times, October 8, 1979.
Publishers Weekly, October 22, 1979.
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