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Wednesday’s Wise Woman … Elizabeth Bishop

August 1, 2012

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) an American Poet and author of short stories; was baby and the only child when her father died.  Her mother suffered from mental illness and was hospitalised in 19i6.  Elizabeth was never reunited with her mother.  Instead she was cared by her maternal and paternal grandparents. Neither was a happy relationship; so she lived with her mother’s sister. As a result of this personal turbulence she suffered from chronic asthma for the rest of her life.  Due to her illness Elizabeth had little formal education.  It was her Aunt who introduced her to poets such as Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
She studied music at Walnut Hill School hoping to become a composer; unfortunately she was unable to perform without debilitating anxiety.  Elizabeth changed courses and began to study literature.  Before she graduated she had published work and co-founded the literary magazine ‘Con Spinto’
As a result of a substantial inheritance from her late father; Elizabeth did not need to find employment.  She was able to travel widely until she died,
With this financial independence and  travel fellowship from Bryn Mawr College in 1951 Elizabeth set of to circumnavigate South America by boat.  She planned to stay in Brazil for two weeks instead she remained fifteen years.
She lived in Petropolis with Lota de Macedo Soares a descendent from a prominent political family.  During this time Elizabeth won the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for the collection of Poems North and South/Cold Spring.
Elizabeth remained private about her relationship with Soares; however she did correspond with Samuel Ashley Brown and told him of its breakdown, her depression and subsequent alcoholism and he was less discrete.
While Elizabeth was in Brazil she immersed herself in its culture, language and literature.  She translated some works of Latin American poets;  particularly that of Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, Carlos Drummond de Andrade and the Mexican poet Octavio Paz.
Elizabeth was careful not to label herself.  Although she was a feminist she did not consider herself as a lesbian or female poet.  Unlike contemporary poets, who used the intimate parts of their life as the focal points of their poetry; considered by Elizabeth as a confessional style.  Elizabeth was discreet about her alcoholism and bouts of depression that she suffered throughout her adult life.  She instead wrote about people in her life as child particularly her mother.
Elizabeth won other literary awards in the 1970s; such as the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.   When her inheritance began to run out she taught in the University of Washington, Harvard University, New York University and the finishing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Elizabeth was not a prolific writer and much of her work remained unfinished.  Her last published work was Geography III in 1976.
Three years later she died of a cerebral aneurysm and is buried in Worcester Massachusetts. After her death the Elizabeth Bishop House and artist’s retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia was dedicated to her memory.
I came across Elizabeth Bishop by accident; when looking for  book about Brazil and its culture, I found ‘Life World Library Brazil’ written by her in 1962. It is a slim volume but filled facts about its geography, culture and politics in bite size pieces for a beginner like me to dip into.  I can look closely at her bibliography in time add to my miniscule knowledge.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2012 6:29 pm

    Abasolutly faboulous…do you now that Amy is The “Morro da Babilônia Bishop”? Its True He, he, he!!!!

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  1. Wednesday’s woman | Living, Libraries and [Dead] Languages

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