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About this poet

Elizabeth Bishop was born on February 8, 1911, in Worcester, Massachusetts. When she was less than a year old, her father died, and shortly thereafter, her mother was committed to a mental asylum. Bishop was first sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia and later lived with paternal relatives in Worcester and South Boston. She earned a bachelor's degree from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1934.

Bishop was independently wealthy, and from 1935 to 1937 she spent time traveling to France, Spain, North Africa, Ireland, and Italy and then settled in Key West, Florida, for four years. Her poetry is filled with descriptions of her travels and the scenery that surrounded her, as with the Florida poems in her first book of verse, North & South (Houghton Mifflin), published in 1946.

She was influenced by the poet Marianne Moore, who was a close friend, mentor, and stabilizing force in her life. Unlike her contemporary and good friend Robert Lowell, who wrote in the Confessional style, Bishop's poetry avoids explicit accounts of her personal life and focuses instead with great subtlety on her impressions of the physical world.

Her images are precise and true to life, and they reflect her own sharp wit and moral sense. She lived for many years in Brazil, communicating with friends and colleagues in America only by letter. She wrote slowly and published sparingly (her Collected Poems number barely one hundred), but the technical brilliance and formal variety of her work is astonishing. For years she was considered a "poet's poet," but with the publication of her last book, Geography III (Chatto and Windus), in 1977, Bishop was finally established as a major force in contemporary literature.

She received the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1955). Her Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), won the National Book Award in 1970. That same year, Bishop began teaching at Harvard University, where she worked for seven years.

Elizabeth Bishop was awarded an Academy Fellowship in 1964 for distinguished poetic achievement, and served as a Chancellor from 1966 to 1979. She died in Cambridge, Massachussetts, on October 6, 1979, and her stature as a major poet continues to grow through the high regard of the poets and critics who have followed her.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters (Library of America, 2008)
Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
The Complete Poems 1927-1979 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983)
Geography III (Chatto and Windus, 1977)
Poem (Phoenix Book Shop,1973)
The Complete Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969)
The Ballad of the Burglar of Babylon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968)
Questions of Travel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965)
Poems (Chatto and Windus, 1956)
Poems: North and South/A Cold Spring (Houghton Mifflin, 1955)
North & South (Houghton Mifflin, 1946)

Prose
One Art: Letters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994)
The Collected Prose (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984)
The Diary of Helena Morley (Ecco Press, 1977)
Brazil (Time, inc., 1962)

Anthology

Anthology of Twentieth Century Brazilian Poetry (with Emmanuel Brasil) (Wesleyan University Press, 1972)

Filling Station

Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station, 
oil-soaked, oil-permeated 
to a disturbing, over-all 
black translucency. 
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty, 
oil-soaked monkey suit 
that cuts him under the arms, 
and several quick and saucy 
and greasy sons assist him 
(it's a family filling station), 
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station? 
It has a cement porch 
behind the pumps, and on it 
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork; 
on the wicker sofa 
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide 
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie 
upon a big dim doily 
draping a taboret 
(part of the set), beside 
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant? 
Why the taboret? 
Why, oh why, the doily? 
(Embroidered in daisy stitch 
with marguerites, I think, 
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily. 
Somebody waters the plant, 
or oils it, maybe. Somebody 
arranges the rows of cans 
so that they softly say:
ESSO—SO—SO—SO
to high-strung automobiles. 
Somebody loves us all.

Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. "Filling Station" from The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel.

CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. "Filling Station" from The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel.

CAUTION: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop

The technical brilliance and formal variety of Elizabeth Bishop's work—rife with precise and true-to-life images—helped establish her as a major force in contemporary literature.

by this poet

poem
In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long
poem

 

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poem

For Robert Lowell

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's