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Elizabeth Bishop

In: English and Literature

Submitted By chelswolfgang
Words 1587
Pages 7
Chelsea Wolfgang
ENC 1102 05C
Professor Passerini
26 April 2014
Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop is known as an original, and influential American poet. She had sixty-eight years of life experiences to fill her poems, before her death in 1979. Bishop won many awards throughout her career including the famous Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and best of all; she was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950. Graduating from Vassar College in 1929, her first few poems were published while she was a student (Poets.org.). Though she continued writing poems till the end of her career, she also was a published short story author. One of her first published short stories was included in the book, Questions of Travel. While Elizabeth Bishop’s poems focused her life, they also were about her impressions of the physical world. Many of her poems are studied throughout schools, one of the most popular being, “The Fish”; which I studied throughout my education twice.
I wouldn’t consider any of the poems I have read by her, “easy reads”; in fact, I would consider them fairly complicated and would require most students to use Sparknotes. The select poems I have read by her, I have not fully understood without assistance. But what I like about
Bishops poems is that each one I’ve read and then understood has great meaning and becomes extremely intriguing. One of my personal favorites is the poem previous mentioned, The Fish.
The Fish
I caught a tremendous fish and held him beside the boat half out of water, with my hook fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight, battered and venerable and homely. Here and there his brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper, and its pattern of darker brown was like wallpaper: shapes like full-blown roses stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles, fine rosettes of lime, and infested with tiny white sea-lice, and underneath two or three rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in the terrible oxygen
--the frightening gills, fresh and crisp with blood, that can cut so badly--
I thought of the coarse white flesh packed in like feathers, the big bones and the little bones, the dramatic reds and blacks of his shiny entrails, and the pink swim-bladder like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes which were far larger than mine but shallower, and yellowed, the irises backed and packed with tarnished tinfoil seen through the lenses of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not to return my stare.
--It was more like the tipping of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face, the mechanism of his jaw, and then I saw that from his lower lip
--if you could call it a lip grim, wet, and weaponlike, hung five old pieces of fish-line, or four and a wire leader with the swivel still attached, with all their five big hooks grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end where he broke it, two heavier lines, and a fine black thread still crimped from the strain and snap when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons frayed and wavering, a five-haired beard of wisdom trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared and victory filled up the little rented boat, from the pool of bilge where oil had spread a rainbow around the rusted engine to the bailer rusted orange, the sun-cracked thwarts, the oarlocks on their strings, the gunnels-until everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

We studied this poem in our class, and it definitely took me a few times to fully understand the content, but the hidden meanings throughout this poem really are incredible. Other poets may never understand how Bishop can disguise such important meanings with simple descriptions of a fishing trip, but this is what is so entertaining about her writings. Her connection with the physical world is astounding and really quite fascinating; almost something that I envy. In an interview in the Paris Review in 1978, Bishop explains how she was very romantic alone, with nature. “I was very romantic. I once walked from Nauset Light to the tip, Provincetown, all alone. It took me a night and a day. I went swimming from time to time but at that time the beach was absolutely deserted. There wasn’t anything on the back shore, no buildings. “ (“The Paris Review”) Bishop also told a story about how once in college she actually slept in a tree. I think her connection with nature really helped her be able to write her poems the fascinating way that she did. “through late afternoon a bus journeys west, the windshield flashing pink, pink glancing off of metal, brushing the dented flank of blue, beat-up enamel; down hollows, up rises, and waits, patient, while a lone traveller gives kisses and embraces to seven relatives” (Poets.org) “through late afternoon a bus journeys west, the windshield flashing pink, pink glancing off of metal, brushing the dented flank of blue, beat-up enamel; down hollows, up rises, and waits, patient, while a lone traveller gives kisses and embraces to seven relatives” (Poets.org) Elizabeth Bishop focused many years of her life on traveling. It might seem surprising, but It seemed as though for the majority of her life she never stayed more than four years in one place. Could her need for change and travel be a cause of her childhood where she was constantly moved from home to home? Or could it be simply she liked the adventure? We may never know the answer to that, but Bishop explains that her traveling is something she never planned for, it always just happened; and she loved it! While she traveled she kept a journal, and she would always take notes of what she was surrounded with. The following excerpt is from the famous poem, “The Moose”. This poem is based on a true account that happened when Bishop lived in Brazil. Her poems frequently held accounts of her travels and experiences with that aspect of her life. The poems similar to the following aren’t as challenging to understand as some. Although one always wonders when reading Bishop’s work, what the hidden meanings could be!

“From everything I’ve read and heard, the number of students in English departments taking literature courses has been falling off enormously. But at the same time the number of people who want to get in the writing classes seems to get bigger and bigger.” (“The Paris Review”)

“From everything I’ve read and heard, the number of students in English departments taking literature courses has been falling off enormously. But at the same time the number of people who want to get in the writing classes seems to get bigger and bigger.” (“The Paris Review”)

Harvard University, where Bishop spent 7 years.
Harvard University, where Bishop spent 7 years. A huge part of Elizabeth Bishop’s life included teaching in many institutions. Starting at the University of Washington, to Harvard where she taught for 7 years. She then moved on to New York University, and then ended her teaching career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the Paris Review Bishop stated, "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 discouraged." (“The Paris Review”) I think it’s interesting that Bishop says this, especially considering that she continued and finished her education through college. She explains further in the interview how she never wanted, or planned on teaching in her life. She was offered a job, and needed the money; so she decided to take the teaching job. Bishop explains how she believes that creativity comes from the person, and that the teacher helps to bring it out.
During her teachings, she says that she gave multiple assignments per week and every few weeks she would tell her students that they could turn in whatever they wanted! When thinking about Bishop’s teachings, my thoughts turn towards wondering how teaching affected her writings. Poems published later in her life won multiple awards, once again. Did the student’s work influence her writings at all? I researched this question in every way I knew how to phrase it, and nothing came up on whether or not something drastic happened. But after analyzing some of the last poems Bishop ever published, they seem the same in manner as her earlier poems. Elizabeth Bishops poems take time, and effort to read and to fully grasp. But once you take the time to sit down, and analyze even just one, you will be shocked at the meanings that you will find. Bishop’s poems still impact American literature to this day, and will continue to be an important figure in education. Poets of today will respect Bishop for years to come for making such a mark on American poetry. On October 6 1979 she died in Cambridge, Massachusetts leaving behind a legacy that no one could take away. An artist’s retreat in Nova Scotia was built in her name, and called the Elizabeth Bishop House. If you have the urge to sit down, and take in poetry, grab one of Elizabeth Bishops collection of poems, and enjoy.

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