Twentieth Century Poetry: Selves and Situations

By Peter Robinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
‘The bliss of what?’: Bishop’s Crusoe

I

Elizabeth Bishop didn’t much like England. In March 1936 she sent a postcard of Piccadilly Circus to Frani Blough: ‘Since last week your fondness for England has made me feel a little suspicious of you.’1 Twentyeight years later, writing on 19 June from the Hotel Pastoria, London, Bishop describes some Crusoe-in-England-like experiences to her doctor, Anny Baumann. Her companion Lota Costellat de Macedo Soares had recently returned to Rio de Janeiro after their visit to Italy:

I did want her to see a bit of England, too—but she was finally so depressed by
the high state of agricultural cultivation in Italy, the advanced ‘civilization,’ the
huge trees in the parks, etc.—as compared to Brazil—that perhaps it’s just as well
she didn’t come. They’re all even bigger and better here. (I really prefer some-
thing a bit harsher, I confess.)

Then there’s the weather in June: ‘It is terribly cold—or else my blood is thinned by the tropics—and raining, naturally. Although I like the tea very much, I’m already beginning to feel hysterical when I see those biscuits.’2 Her ‘my blood’ and ‘I like the tea’ echo towards the close of ‘Crusoe in England’:

Now I live here, another island,
that doesn’t seem like one, but who decides?
My blood was full of them; my brain
bred islands. But that archipelago
has petered out. I’m old.
I’m bored, too, drinking my real tea,
surrounded by uninteresting lumber.

1 Elizabeth Bishop, One Art: Selected Letters, ed. R. Giroux (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994), 39.

2 Ibid. 426.

-116-

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