Elizabeth Bishop (1911 - 1979)

The Complete Poems



Studying Elizabeth Bishop's poetry

2002/07/14 – At this early stage in the exam preparation year it does not seem advisable to jump right into the critical literature and the scholarly analyses of her style, descriptive poetry, gender, sexuality, space, travel, loss etc. pp. Let the poems come to you first. Read them, listen to them; there is ample material available on the web.

Links – primary sources and audio/video documents

64 out of Bishop's 101 published poems are accessible from the Plagiarist.com Archive (these are the originals, not parodies).

Some people, and I'm one of them, prefer approaching poetry through the ear. In the case of Elizabeth Bishop, we are offered a special treat: poems read by the author herself (the candidates who have to work on Donne instead of Bishop don't get the pleasure).

A place to start is the Academy of American Poets, with a short biographical sketch and a link to The Armadillo (Real Audio).

Prof. Huck Gutman of the University of Vermont has made Filling Station, Sandpiper and In the Waiting Room (Real Audio) available; in addition, he offers an introduction to Bishop's poetry, based on the same three poems, in a half-hour Real Audio document.

Manuelzinho (wav and au) can be found on the Women in American History site.

On The Atlantic Online site, four contemporary American poets read Bishop's Sonnet (1979) (Real Audio). If you let these four very different voices talk to you, you'll know it by heart in no time at all.

On the Voices & Visions site, there is a Quicktime video clip of One Art.

An Athens, GA, law professor had himself taped reading At the Fishhouses (Real Video). (You have to admire some landscape and horses for a few minutes: the poetry reading is at the end of the clip).

Links – secondary literature

One life, one art: Elizabeth Bishop in her letters by Elizabeth Spires: More on Bishop's life, friends, relationships based on some of her letters.

Elizabeth Bishop 1911~1979 by David Staines is, I believe, an obit.

Modern American Poetry has a particularly rich page on Bishop. They collect short remarks and longer papers on a number of poems. Most of them are well worth reading, but particularly fascinating is The Drafts of "One Art" by Brett Candlish Millier, with keys to the locked doors of what is probably one of the most complex poems in the collection (and on our syllabus).

A collection of scholarly papers from a 1994 symposium held at Elizabeth Bishop's college, Vassar. They also explore less-studied aspects – politics, feminism, religion – that at first glance seem absent from her poetry.

Right on-topic for our purposes: remarks on the diphthong in Filling Station.

The Eye of the Outsider by poet Adrienne Rich – an article from the Boston Review.

Elizabeth Bishop: The Art of Changing Your Mind – a critical article by Jane Shore from the literary journal Ploughshares. On the same site, there are two more interesting articles: "The Work!": A Conversation with Elizabeth Bishop by George Starbuck and One Art: The Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, 1971-1976 by Lloyd Schwartz.

The critical journal Connotations offers a debate on Elizabeth Bishop: Language, Class, Gender.

Michael Benigni writes on The Oracular Imagination in Elizabeth Bishop and throws light on the difficult The Man-Moth and on Sandpiper.

"Reticence" is a much used term to describe her poetry. More on this in Elizabeth Bishop's Reticence in Flight, an article by Jack Kimball.

The Lady and Gentleman of Shalott: Elizabeth Bishops Mirrored Verse – a hypertext article by Mason West on The Gentleman of Shalott, Casabianca and Visit to St. Elizabeths.


Let's start where we always do – at the official exam bibliography (for professors and jury members – we don't have to have read it all!) on the SAES site (HTML or PDF).




Caught -- the bubble
in the spirit level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed -- the broken
thermometer's mercury
running away;
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
flying wherever
it feels like, gay!







© 2002 Chris Waigl. Last modified 15th July, 2002.