The Body and the Song: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics

The Body and the Song: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics

The Body and the Song: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics

The Body and the Song: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetics

Synopsis

'The aim of The Body And The Song--to offer the reader fresh perspective on the complex relation between soma and psyche in fashioning and framing a poem--is important and furthers scholarship and interpretation in Bishop studies.

Excerpt

"woe is translatable to joy if light becomes darkness and darkness light, as it will"

--William Carlos Williams, Light Becomes Darkness

Elizabeth Bishop stares back at me from a grainy, age-flecked photograph. It is 1954; she is forty-three years old and living in Brazil. Sitting on the ground, cradling her legs, she looks girlish and just as James Merrill remembered her: "The whitening hair grew thick above a face each year somehow rounder and softer, like a bemused, blue-lidded planet, a touch too large, in any case, for a body that seemed never quite to have reached maturity" (6). Even as an adolescent, Bishop was known for her startling appearance. To schoolmate Frani Blough Muser, "she looked remarkable, with tightly curly hair that stood straight up, while the rest of us all had straight hair that hung down. . . . We called her 'Bishop,' spoke of her as 'the Bishop,' and we all knew with no doubt whatsoever that she was a genius" (introduction, CProse xii-xiii). From first to last, "the Bishop" hated being photographed and rarely let herself be caught looking directly into a camera. Most snapshots show her in profile or three-quarter view, looking off into some incalculable distance. Aloof or shy--it's difficult to tell. And in the back of my mind I hear the rustling of an untethered phrase from one of Bishop's most well-known letters, words of advice for anyone sinking or sliding into the unknown terrain of a poet's life: "Catch a peripheral vision of whatever it is one can never really see full- face but that seems enormously important" (Stevenson 66).

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