In Praise Of the Great Poet
“a writer, a person and a cultural icon”
“writer’s writer’s writer” John Ashbery
“one of the most important American poets” New York
"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.”
“A strong sense of the poet as (an) observer”
“An eye so acute that at a first reading little appears to be to
imaged about the subject"
“A quality of childlike wonder”
Born February 8, 1911 in
Mother was mentally ill, died-
Elizabeth raised by grandparents
Attended Walnut Hill School then
Lived in several places
Key West, Florida
Was a lesbian- but didn’t influence her
Died October 6, 1979 in Worchester
Death of father when she was 8 months old.
1916 mother institutionalized –short story “In The Village”
1934 Death of mother
Lived with Grandparents—great Village, Nova Scotia. Refers
to the period in her writings.
Moves with paternal family in Worcester, Massachusetts—
developed chronic asthma.
Time in Worchester chronicled in “The Waiting room”.
Sent to live with mother’s sister in Revereand later
. Introduced by aunt to the works of Victorian
poets, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Thomas
Carlyle, Robert Browning, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
•Limited formal schooling before the
age of 14 due to bad health.
•Walnut high School
•Vassar College class of 1934
•Underground magazine Con
Spirito, with Mary McCarthy, at
•1934 meets Marianne Moore and
work published in Vassar
•Moore recommended Bishop for
Houghtin Mifflin Prize.
•Moore published a handful of her
poems in an anthology called Trial
Balances in 1935
•After being rejected by several New
York publishers North and South
published in August 1946
North and South: introduces the themes central
to Bishop's poetry: geography and
landscape, human connection with the natural
world, questions of knowledge and
perception, and the ability or inability of form to
control chaos. Robert Lowell like
Moore, showed Bishop possibilities--practically, in
the form of grants, fellowships, and awards, and
In 1950 Lowell helped Bishop secure the
post of poetry consultant for the Library of
Congress while she worked on her second book
1950, won the Lucy Martin Donnelly Fellowship and an
award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
1951 she traveled to South America but…
ate a cashew fruit to which she had a violent allergic
fell in love, both with Lota de Macedo Soares, and with the
landscape and culture of Brazil.
For fifteen years Bishop lived with Soares
She wrote to Lowell that she was "extremely happy for the
first time in my life" (28 July 1953).
relationship with Lota de Macedo Soares gave her life
stability and love, and she established residences in Rio de
1954 publish her second book, A Cold Spring.
1956 Pulitzer Prize
Donald Hall called Bishop "one of the best poets alive."
Bishop spent the next three years translating a
popular Brazilian work, the diary of "Helena
Morely”—calledMinha Vida de Menina.
The story of Helena's life in the small town of
Diamantina in 1893 reminded Bishop of her 1916
Great Village, and translating this work while
reflecting on and writing about her own childhood
helped Bishop explore her past as artistic
The translation was published under the title The
Diary of Helena Morely by Farrar, Straus, and
Cudahy in 1957.
A Cold Spring, her second volume of poetry, appeared in 1955. Brazil
became the setting for many of the poems that were collected a decade
later in Questions of Travel (1965).
After the suicide of Lota de Macedo Soares, Bishop increasingly began
to live in the United States, and became poet-in-residence at Harvard
University in 1969. A close friendship with Alice Methfessel began in
1971 and continued until the time of Bishop's death in 1979. Her final
poetry volume, Geography III, was published in 1976,
Bishop often spent many years writing a single poem, working toward
an effect of offhandedness and spontaneity. Committed to a "passion
for accuracy," she re-created her worlds of
Canada, America, Europe, and Brazil. Shunning self-pity, the poems
thinly conceal her estrangements as a woman, a lesbian, an orphan, a
geographically rootless traveler, a frequently hospitalized
asthmatic, and a sufferer of depression and alcoholism. "I'm not
interested in big-scale work as such," she once told Lowell.
"Something needn't be large to be good."
"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had
ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." -
In 1978 Bishop told Alexandra Johnson in an
interview, “I’ve never felt particularly
homeless, but, then, I’ve never felt particularly at
home. I guess that’s a pretty good description of a poet’s
sense of home. [S]he carries it within [her]” (102). After
1930 Bishop returned to Great Village only occasionally (in
1946, 1947, 1951 and throughout the 1970s). But as she
moved out into the world, she took her experiences of
Great Village with her as touchstones. What Elizabeth
Bishop carried within her was a vivid sense of space and
time, shape and colour, a multi-dimensional perspective, a
layered memory, which emerged first in Great Village, and
which helped her navigate the world. Somewhere inside
her mind, her childhood home, an “inscrutable house,”
endured as an aesthetic template, anchor and exemplar.
1945: Houghton Mifflin Poetry Prize Fellowship
1947: Guggenheim Fellowship
1949: Appointed Consultant in Poetry at the Library
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: Ingram-Merrill Foundation Grant
1969: National Book Award
1969: The Order of the Rio Branco (awarded by the
1974: Harriet Monroe Poetry Award
1976: Elected to the American Academy of Arts and
1977: National Book Critics Circle Award
1978: Guggenheim Fellowship