• Bishop was born on the 8th of February 1911, in Massachusetts.
Her father died when she was eight months old of Blight’s Disease.
• Five years later, her mother was traumatised by her husbands death
which led to a mental breakdown and she ended up being
• Bishop then went to live with her maternal grandparents. They were
caring, loving, simple and kind people. They showed a lot of
affection to their granddaughter.
• However, at the age of six, her paternal grandparents arrived and
took her to live with them.
• It was a very sudden departure for Bishop. She recalls it as a
‘kidnapping’ from a happy home to a cold, strict and serious
• This was a violent change for Bishop, and created a sense of loss in
her and remained with her as an adult.
• Her unhappiness showed as she suffered many illnesses;
asthma, bronchitis and eczema.
• After nine months the Bishops could not cope with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s Aunt Maude rescued the ill and nervous child by taking
her out of that environment and bringing her to live with her and her
• Bishop later said that Aunt Maude had saved her life.
• Due to the many illnesses Bishop suffered she had very little formal
schooling before she was fourteen.
There are three of Bishops poems that deal with childhood:
• First Death in Nova Scotia
• In the Waiting Room
Bishop deals with her childhood in these poems.
Bishop’s childhood was far from happy as it was filled with uncertainty.
• Bishop was greatly influenced by the poet Marianne Moore who she
met in 1934 and they had a strong friendship that lasted until
Moore’s death in 1972
• Bishop's poem "At the Fishhouses" has a lot of similarities to
Moore's poem "A Grave."
• She was introduced to Robert Lowell in 1947 and they became great
friends until Lowell's death in 1977.
• After his death, she wrote, "our friendship, which was 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 modelled on Miss Bishop's 'The Armadillo.'"
• "North Haven," one of the last poems that Bishop published during
her lifetime, was written in memory of Lowell in 1978.
Awards and Honours
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 Donnelly Fellowship
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
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
• 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. 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
• She taught at New York University, before finishing at the Massachusetts Institute of
• 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
• In 1971 Bishop began a relationship with Alice Methfessel, her literary executor.
• 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.
Personality in poetry
•She reveals that she is sensitive and noble.
•She realises that the fish she caught had been caught before many times.
•She respects the fish enough to let it go.
‘‘Five big hooks/in his mouth’’
•She reveals that she has a positive outlook on life and notices the
good in all things.
•At first all she notices how ‘’dirty’’ the filling station was.
•Soon after spotting the ‘‘doily’’ and the ‘’begonia’’, she realises that somebody
takes care of the ‘’dirty’’ filling station and ‘’somebody loves’’ it.
First death in Nova Scotia
The theme is death.
• Her baby cousin Arthur had died and she was at his wake to say her
• ‘’Come and say good-bye to your little cousin Arthur’’
Bishop uses lovely imagery in this poem.
• ‘’He was all white, like a doll that hadn’t been painted yet’’.
• This is a great description of what the young child would have
Bishop repeats some words a few times in this poem: Cold, White,
Frozen, Painted, Forever.
• This makes us think of death which relates to the theme.
• There is a lot of broad vowel sounds in this poem.
• ‘’Jack Frost had dropped the brush and left him white, forever.’’
• This gives us a deep, sad feeling.
There is a Great Eye For Detail
• The position of the hook in his mouth
• The pattern and layout of his skin "hung in strips“
• That he is infested with sea-lice
• His gills moving while he is breathing in oxygen
• The movement and size of his eyes and the colours in them
• Where previous fish hooks once hung in his mouth
• How oil had once spilled over the engine in the boat
which created a rainbow like effect in the light
Features in the poem:
• Vivid and sensual imagery
• Bishop gives a very detailed description of the fish
• She manages to base the poem on a tiny event in her life
• She sets the fish free as the joy of just knowing she caught a fish is
enough for her "And I let the fish go“
• She gives human qualities to something that isn't human
• Deeper themes underlie the surface description "Like medals
with their ribbons frayed and wavering“
• Mentions different colours such as brown, darker brown,
lime, white, green, red, black, pink, yellow, orange, which
gives life to her descriptions
• It's a poem with a message; The message could be that nobody
needs physical evidence of victory, all that matters is that you know
• In a sestina there are six unrhymed stanzas of six lines and a seventh stanza of
• The same six words are used at the end of the lines in each stanza
Childhood, Family, Memories, Regret, Sadness, Reflection of the past
Repetition of the words:
Tears, Child, Stove, House, Almanac, Grandmother
• No grief or sorrow is directly expressed, but there is an underlying atmosphere
that is painfully emotional.
• Bishop’s relationship with her grandmother is positive and she acts as a mother
figure for Bishop.
Summary – Stanza 1• At the start of the poem the grandmother is telling jokes and
laughing ‘’to hide her tears’’.
• This is the first time were hear the word tears.
Summary – Stanza 2
• The rain is beating on the roof.
• As children do, Bishop focuses on the familiar objects are her;
– The kettle
– The stove
• She has no idea why her grandmother is crying, but thinks that the
almanac had foretold her tears, as it had the weather.
Summary – Stanza 3
• From her perspective, objects have a personality and a life, just like
• Bishop uses personification:
Summary – Stanza 4
• The grandmother is suffering of grief of what has happened to her
daughter and her granddaughter.
• She hides her sorrow by drinking tea and pretending she feels
chilly. She is not chilly, she is only sad and emotional.
• The cup is described as being full of not tea, but ‘’dark brown
tears’’. Tears in the teacup represent sorrow and grief.
Summary – Stanza 5
• ‘‘The child draws a rigid house’’. This shows that the child is
awareness that she lost her father.
• The ‘‘rigid house’’ with its ‘‘winding pathway’’ represents tension and
difficulties that the family have experienced.
– ‘’It was to be, says the Marvel Stove’’
– ‘’I know what I know, says the almanac’’
Summary – Stanza 6
• The mood is lifted in stanza six, with the ‘’little moons’’ of the
almanac falling ‘’down like tears’’ into the flower bed that the child
• The flower bed suggests hope, beauty and happiness for the future.
Summary – Final
• Bishop makes the almanac speak again:
‘’Time to plant tears’’
• This suggests that for the adult Bishop it is time to bury her tears
and move on.
• The final two lines shows that the grandmother seems to have
overcome the worst of her grief, and the child continues to draw her