Elizabeth Bishop: Poetry With Purpose, Capstone Project Example
Words: 6504Capstone Project
The work examines the subjectivity projection in the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. The particular focus is directed on the poems âThe Fishâ, âOne Artâ, and âIn the Waiting Roomâ. Each of the works reveals the authorâs autobiographical motives disclosing experience related to childhood memories, intimate emotional reaction to realms of life, reflections of eternal values.
Elizabeth Bishop: Poetry with Purpose
âWe do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.â
An individual, the poet, âspeaksâ and is âheardâ by an audience of readers. Poetry brings into existence worthy past and present moments. Every accomplished poem silhouettes an authorâs perception of a person, place, thing, object, or experience and captures the attention of its readers, making it unmistakably, successful. In accordance with E. E. Cummingsâ observation, âOnce we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spiritâ, it can be said that the works of Elizabeth Bishop certainly expose her human spirit.
The poetry of Elizabeth Bishop can be well thought of as a voice echoed in print. Bishopâs work ultimately, offers a precise, graphic depiction of one who has been key witness; in as such, rests an unambiguous awareness of Bishopâs sensibility, as well as skilled poet. Elizabeth Bishop lived, at times, a tumultuous life and other times a peaceful life. Her creative and curious nature is projected through her poetry. In most âIâ person poems, the speaker is presumably identified with the author herself. In some of them, threads of escapist motives play a significant part as an attempt to forget about harsh life realms. Hence, these poems serve a perfect example of catharsis produced through readersâ empathy, compassion, shared enduring of emotional experience. Apparently, emphasis on her poignant responses to life changing events is particularly underscored in âOne Artâ, âIn the Waiting Roomâ, and âThe Fishâ. Symbolic messages found in these poems apparently conceptualize Bishopsâ life story.
Some critics have labeled Bishopâs poems as puzzling, obscure, and simple yet non-definitive. A reading, that seems confusing or perplexing, instigates that part of the human will which brings to surface curiosity, the part of self which turns from complacency to investigator.Â A reading, that is obscure, or difficult to understand, gives rise to contemplation and the power of imagination. A reading, that is simple, yet non-definitive, lies at the crossroads between humbleness and pretentious. All of these characteristics (puzzling, obscure, and simple), are what make Bishopâs work undeniably, ingenious.
Elizabeth Bishopsâ work rests within a class of its own. Her work encapsulates the work of someone, not the poet herself, but the average layperson writing a life journal or diary. Most of Bishops poems were re-constructs of âselfâ âreal life events and experiences. Her life was filled with inspiring experiences. As a child, Bishop lost both parents, one to death, one to mental illness. Orphaned, Bishop was raised by relatives, mainly an uncle and aunt. Many of her poems represent the journey of an adult writer to childhood memories that oppressed Bishop throughout her entire life. Though the speaker is a child, the voice and though depths prove that it is an adultâs flashback. The poem âIn the Waiting Roomâ mirrors one of Bishops childhood experiences that involved her aunt. The poem discusses a seemingly innocent childhood experience, which turns into a coming of age poem as it erupts into gender self-identification. Being an adult, Elizabeth Bishop was involved in a lesbian relationship with a Brazilian lover. After several volatile years together, Bishopâs lover commits suicide. Bishop creates barriers to shield herself from this loss and alludes to her desire to move pass the loss and pain. The loss becomes a transient theme in her poetry. The villanelle âOne Artâ reveals deep reflection on various losses and the reaction to them.
Throughout her adult life, Bishop enjoyed living in places that offered settings of comfort (perhaps in a quest for tranquilityâopposite of her childhood). One place of comfort for Bishop was the coastal waterway of Key West, Florida. There she enjoyed a favorite hobbyâfishing. âThe Fishâ is a poem about one of Bishops âcatchesâ and her decision to free the âcatchâ. Not only does this particular poem (above all others), reflect an intimate view of Bishops passionate soul; it also encompasses aspects of Bishops life to include her struggles, triumphs, and ultimately her surrender.
Critic Ann Hoff offers a different view of sorts with Bishops work, specifically Bishopâs autobiographical works. Hoff attempts to convince Bishops critics that she [Bishop] withholds the most intimate details of memoirs from her readers in autobiographical works. âThe Fishâ, one of Bishops autobiographical poems, certainly does not fit into Hoffâs critical stance on Bishop. In her essay, âOwning Memory: Elizabeth Bishopâs Authorial Restraintâ, Hoffâs presumptions are evident: âWe study this element of Bishop’s work because there is an intriguing silence in her speaking. She seems to be telling us something personal, vital, crucial, autobiographical, but she does not let us know exactly what it is. Bishop‘s poems, in particular, present a fascinating study of the autobiographical pact, because they project the feeling that the authorâin Â the very act of sharing a memoryâis hiding something crucial from the readerâ(2).
In direct contrast to Hoffâs view, it can be said that Bishop exhibits the characteristics of discernment and authority. This is marked by her ability to identify significant details on the most trivial of creatures and, by doing so, dominating her reader with, if nothing else, and sheer curiosity. Through the tools of poetry, Bishop explores truth, conjecture, victory, and the means through which wisdom is acquired. In exposing these details, her âvoiceâ of authority is established.
Reading Bishops work literally draws the reader into âBishops Worldâ. As Bishops audience, we are engaged into a bond of sorts with what she is sensing and seeing at a place of enlightenmentâher subjectivity.Â Intertwined within this âplaceâ, a readerâs own subjectivity is tested. According to the analysis of Bishopâs poetry done by Hoff: âShe [Bishop] offers a body of poetry that demonstrates a method of self-disclosure that creates and verifies trust between author and reader. Further, her careful method of writing promotes a more watchful way of reading, one that permits us to acknowledge autobiography in verse without being naive about the artist’s manipulations of her own subjectivityâ (17).
Multiple interpretations of the poetry argue whether or not Bishopsâ âsubjectivityâ, was influenced by her personal experiences of solitude, tragedy, loss, and constant personal struggles with alcoholism and lesbianism. In either case, she had a natural ability to write simplistically, as though preserving something sacred, yet notwithstanding, exposing her inner human spirit.
Though Bishop does not overtly discuss her emotions of compassion or passion in poems like âThe Fishâ and âOne Artâ, she pervades these two intangible truths, which were remarkable assets she possessed. âThe beauty of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry lies in the keenness of its reserve, and the duplicity such reserve demands from the integral operations of languageâ (Logan 19). Through the written word, Bishop echoed insights into the human condition. She mastered the art of portraying realistic images of objects as well as soliciting emotional responses from her readers. Therefore, the critics and readers often âconfuseâ the author and the narrator of the poems. The statement of Randall Jarrell illustrates the above said: âShe is so morally attractive in the poems, like âThe Fishâ or âRoostersâ, because she understands so well that the wickedness and confusion of the age can explain and extenuate other people wickedness and confusion â¦â (qtd. in Millier 155)
Despite the spurious minimalism of speech, widely used simplistic declarative articulations, her ability to convey meaning through poetic devices was fascinating. As noted by William Logan: âPoetry is a system of communication in which the instinct of communication is often exceeded by the poetic means. The means at such a moment bear a burden in excess of their commitment, and in a poet like Bishop the innocence of those means may become part of the troubled drama of understanding, may agree to be the carrier of less innocent messages. Poetry is not a code, because it is more ambivalent than codeâits immaculate expression may not seem genuine unless betrayed by the archeology buried beneath itâ(19).
The âarcheology buried beneathâ the themes, which underscored Bishops work, proved her interests in the smallest of objects and creatures as well as her connection to the pain of loss, and her inner conflict between present and past experiences (Logan 19). David Kalstone offered a meaningful interpretation into the attributes of Bishopâs writing: âWhat characterizes Elizabeth Bishopâs sensibility is a coalescence of realistic description and personal imagination. Her poetry results from a careful process ofÂ Â âlookingâ. Such seeing is reflected in her accurate images. Experienced as maps to her own experiences, however, Bishopâs poems emerge as a record of her own manner of seeing things as they are and more often than not of the carefully evolved epiphanic insights into their particular meaning for herâ(3).
âThe Fishâ was one of those poems that âcharacterized Bishopâs sensibilityâ (Kaltsone 3). This early poem belongs to the most representative works perfectly disclosing the authorâs personal voice. Moreover, it marked a turning point associated with the launch of the Key West works success.
She used the power of descriptive language to convey a personal experience, which ultimately, underscored her compassion. The poetess developed in her early poems impersonal âIâ narration without specifying the speaker. Though the narrator and the author do not merge into one, in Bishopâs poems the narrator is so close to the author, that may be interpreted as straight embodiment of the authorâs views. Millier acutely concludes that the person, readers are introduced to in the poem, is Elizabeth Bishop herself (154). Hence, the openness and high morality of the narrator are regarded as Bishopâs qualities.
âThe Fishâ draws the reader into a story where realistic images are brought to life. The pointedly realistic truthfulness, accumulation of details, and complicated ideas delivered in the simplest way made the poem one of the most anthologized which even lead to the authorâs intent to rewrite it in the form of a sonnet. Bishop spoke of âThe Fishâ as a perfect example of fidelity to life: âI always tell the truth in my poems. With The Fish, that’s exactly how it happened. It was in Key West, and I did catch it just as the poem says. That was in 1938. Oh, but I did change one thing; the poem says he had five hooks hanging from his mouth, but actually he had only three. Sometimes the poem makes its own demandsâ (qtd. in Millier 155).
The development of action resides only in seven lines of âThe Fishâ. The action is described in the first six lines and in the concluding line. The first six lines, occurring right at the beginning, are remarkably straightforward:
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 didnât fight.
He hadnât fought at all. (1-6)
The opening dispassionate lines bring us into the beginning scenario. They are unpretentious, to the point, and simple. Verbs (âcaughtâ, âheldâ) are the most important part of a sentence, yet the verbs Bishop uses in these first six lines are plain and ordinary. Then, without much ado, Bishop abruptly ends the last two sentences with a period. Thus, we can surmise these combined first six lines are the detached part of the poem. Then, we are privileged to be part of the remaining, intimate, sixty-nine lines of the poemâBishopâs experience. These lines are filled with Bishops reflective thoughts and feelings based upon her interpretation as well as her imagination. The short encounter erupted in keen observation and the fish shown simultaneously attractive, ugly, and evoking sympathy (âaching jawâ (64).
In addition to Bishops use of simple verbs and strong adjectives in âThe Fishâ, she also used rhetorical language and poetic devices such as tone, metaphor, symbolism, personification, simile, and imagery. Amongst these devices, however, the most prevalent literary tool Bishop used in âThe Fishâ was the simile. When describing the fishâs physical appearance, Bishop compared the fishâs skin to ancient wallpaper:
Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
He was speckled and barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down. (9-11, 16-21)
From mere observation of the appearance noted by multiple keen details (eyes, irises, flesh, entrails, bones), the speaker shifts to admiration, even ascribing the heroic attributes to the fish (âLike medals with their ribbonsâ (61). The following line should be also interpreted from the standpoint of its symbolic message. The fights and confrontations endured by the fish gave him wisdom. This embodiment of experience evokes not only curious observation, but also thoughts of eternal verities.
Examining the compassion shown toward the fish in the poem, Anne Stevenson pointed out that the author ââ¦was the tourist, the curious, sympathetic and delighted observer of place and custom, animal, and person, and the interaction between them which gave them identity and characterâ (4). Bishopâs day of fishing, which resulted in catching the fish, was a day of the realization of a confrontation between human and nature.
The ingenious declarative lines illustrate Bishopâs ability to capture details about the simplest and smallest of things, such as the fishâs skin. Most fishermen admire their catch in terms of length and weight. Bishop referred to the fishâs âcoveringâ [skin], comparing it to wallpaper, also a âcoveringâ.Â She spoke of the way the fishâs skin âhungâ. Wallpaper is also hung, and it is usually done so in âsmall stripsâ (as she noted about the appearance of the fish skin) at a time. Bishop also referred to the skin in color, âbrownâ and goes on to call it âancientâ. Old [ancient] wallpaper would most likely have faded and worn over the years, lending it a brownish, fading color.Â She refers to the skin as a âpatternâ. Most wallpaper is designed in some sort of pattern.Â Bishop could have compared the fishâs skin to any number of objects or things or perhaps gone so far as to distort its image; however, she astutely chose something simple to elaborate upon, an object [wallpaper] a covering, just as skin covers. Bishop used visual language to create a powerful scenario of images and details. ThisÂ Â provocative scenario between fish and fisherman (lady), allowed the reader to experience various emotions and âsee the catchâ.
According to Fowlieâs acute observation: âMiss Bishop’s world is opulent, but in the most unexpected and most humble ways. As a poet, she gives order to this opulence. She enumerates it. She stabilizes the shudder, the nerve, the reflection, the pleasure and the irradiationâ¦ In this poetic world there is nothing merely invented. There is no fantasy and no delirium. There are embellishments, in the best tradition, but what is embellished is always true. What is sanctioned is what has been found to be authenticâ¦ Elizabeth Bishop is a partisan in the worldâ (Fowlie).
The realistic, descriptive passages based on exhaustive descriptions, strict structures, and colloquial speech primarily create the impression of a usual event portrayed in the poem. However, the poem provides several threads of motives urging to examine it on the level of symbols. It interlaces several motives from an ordinary fishing tell-tale (âI caught a tremendous fishâ (1), âgrunting weightâ (7) to Melvilleâs Moby Dick, and the biblical domination of man over the sea and fish, to the image of rainbow as the first sign of the new covenant shown by God to Noah after the flood. The encounter also symbolizes the centuries-old opposition of humanity and nature, in which the fisherwoman won this time: âI stared and stared/ and victory filled up/ the little rented boatâ (65-67). Â Still, the fish represented in the humanized image (âif you could call it a lipâ (49) is also a winner of previous fight with a man. It should be noted, that Bishop personified the fish by referring to the fish as âheâ, but not âitâ.
Though the event happened to both actors, the catch had significant transformations for the fisherwomanâs way of thinking. Indeed, âThe âeventâ in the poem happens less to the fish than to the fisher; her revelation, her epiphany, spreads the rainbow around the boat and seals her covenant with the other battered creatureâ (Millier 154).
âOne Artâ, a villanelle that Bishop used to create a framework of expression about the hardship of loss, yields âpowerful recurrences of mood and emotion and memoryâ (Strand and Boland 8).Â It was a part of the last published Bishopâs collection Geography III, created two years before her death. The poem is a model of Bishopian ârestraint, formality, classicismâ which âdeals openly with lossâ (McCabe 26). Despite the original association of the strict form with frivolous pastoral content, the poetess managed to incorporate smoothly the formal complications with striking emotional depth revealing recognizable intimate experience and personal voice. The mature age of the author suggests multiple losses endured by the poetess.
The first line âThe art of losing isnât hard to masterâ returns as refrain throughout all stanzas; its repetition becomes expressive. The vocal arrangement of the refrain, with dominating long vowels (âartâ, âlosingâ, âhardâ, and âmasterâ) endows it with extended sounding and meaningfulness emphasized on the language level, as well. The colloquial speech patterns, contractions and plain language of the tercets and concluding quatrain bring the poem closer to recipients. The all-embracing experience of losing is familiar to everyone. Therefore, the first three stanzas address to the reader through declarative statements. These lines pivot on different insignificant losses, which provide reassuring that both reader and speaker are able to control this painful emotional experience. These lines represent the speaker as an observer, a survivor, experienced in losing.
What was so intriguing about this poem is the way that Bishop preceded with the things she loses beginning with small things and moving on to things that are more significant. She is quick to point out that it is easy to lose things: âThe art of losing isn’t hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent/ to be lost that their loss is no disaster (1-3).
The attempt to belittle the value of losses, the speaker starts with small casualties, like lost keys, lost hours, moving on to âplaces, and names and where it was you meant/to travelâ (8-9). Then, she continues with more significant things, âI lost my motherâs watch. And look! My last, or/next-to-last, of three loved houses wentâ (11-12). Then, she comes to more complex ones: âI lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster/some realms I owned, two rivers a continentâ (14 -15). The losses, which have become regular things, are enumerated in aggravating order. Apparently, their hyperbolic character paves the way for the representation of the main loss.
Finally, the last stanza dwells on the most striking of all losses, the loss of someone loved. All the losses mentioned in the previous stanzas were bearable; however, Bishop saves the hardest loss and the most unbearable for last. This is the loss that cannot be mastered; the pain involved is so much that âwriting itâ may be the only way to cope:
âEven losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shanât have lied. Itâs evident
the art of losingâs not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. (13 -16)
The closing line of the poetry shows that losing âyouâ is a disaster. The lineâs intermittence renders the depth of feelings. The refrain line repeated in the last stanza alters to hesitant ânot too hard to masterâ (15) from affirmative âisnât hard to masterâ (1). However, it sounds like a desperate attempt of self-persuasion that the painful loss may be survived. In the course of meditation, the loss reveals its real significance. The deviation from of previous speech patterns sustains the suspicion that the repeated line is not completely accurate. Therefore, as noted by Diehl, âsyntax reveals the pain âOne Artâ has been fighting, since its beginning, to suppress as the thought of losing âyouâ awakens an anxiety with which the poem must wrestle down to its closeâ (24).
Thus, the last stanza uncovers the real anguished tone of the speaker, abrupt and uneven. The emotional breakdown at is also notable as a deviation from traditional happy ending in most Bishopâs poems (Sircy 242). The contrast with previous syntactic structures and overwhelming intimacy is identified by Sircy as âan ironically failed attempt to master disasterâ (242). The last line comprising parenthetical command (Write it!) postpones the emergence of the term âdisasterâ in it. The seventeen drafts of the villanelle had various variants of the crucial concluding stanza: âSay it!â, âOh, go on, write it!â (McCabe 33).
The biographical aspect of the poemâs content is obvious. Thought the poetess does not straightly points out her feelings towards a woman or women lost in her life, she did not conceal her homosexual identity. Hence, the poem and, namely, the transient theme of loss acquire one more significant sounding. It should also be interpreted from the standpoint of the authorâs otherness.
The details of the person lost by the speaker are muted; the person lost is represented parenthetically by âthe joking voice, a gestureâ solely (16). The lack of details specifying the image placed its prototype in the focus of long-term discussion resulting in ambiguous conclusions over the identification of âyouâ throughout the poem (Dodd 143). The question is still open for discussion. Dodd E. C. claims that it was the suicide of Lota de Macedo Soares inspired Bishop to âsurviveâ the disaster in lines of villanelle; âAfter the suicide of Macedo Soares, Bishop returned to the USA, and so the loss of lands and love compound one anotherâ (McCabe 3, Dodd 143). According to another point of view, the villanelle indicates the fear of losing or despair related to the loss of Alice Methfessel (Millier 513). Therefore, the unnamedÂ Â âyouâ may imply a generalized character encompassing all the losses Bishop endured in her life. The list of them opens with the early departure of her mother.
The going away from Brazil is expressed in the loss of river, city and continent. The size of river, city and continent lost is directly proportional to significance of the personal loss. The poetess skillfully intertwines geographical objects with figurative message. By the lost houses, Bishop means the relationships with Louise, Lota, and Alice. The author longs to attract the readerâs attention to the âhouseâ symbol; therefore, the narrator exclaims âlook!â to emphasize its significance.
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âOne Artâ is certainly an example of coping with loss through the âartâ of putting feelings into words on paper. The poem was written when the author was mature enough to make
conclusions or resume her life. The lines about losses are not empty words or abstract reflection; their significance is multiply intensified by the personal experience Bishop alludes to in this poem. Spires claims about the concept of writing and survival in the poetry that âBishops letters, like her poems, are able to do this, aware as they are of the precariously balanced, two-sided quality of human experience. The act of writing poetry for her, as it is for all true poets, was a way to surviveâ (Spires). McCabe identifies the villanelle as âmeans of mourning and how… a poetics of loss imbricates a writing of a fluid and unfixed selfâ (2). All the elements of the poem, from speech to lines composition, sustain the revelation of the key theme.
Indeed, Bishopâs poem âOne Artâ, although somewhat âlightheartedâ in syntax and diction, magnified her ability to balance and convey human experiences. Evidently, trivial and naturally sounding speech is one more way to try to learn the âmastery of lossâ. Even the formal requirements of villanelle sustain the aim of revealing the major theme. The repetitions of refrain are expressive and convey a personal message.Â The rigors of villanelle help the author to keep the equilibrium and not give herself up to despair or self-pity which looms through the last lines. Diehl states that title itself âconveys the implicit suggestion that mastery sought over loss in love is closely related to poetic controlâ (23). The real emotions reveal presumably through structures of syntax and accurate selection of words. The rhyme âfasterâ (7)ââdisasterâ (9) implies the speed of living and moving father, which is necessary to survive numerous losses of names and places.
The utilizing of unexpected ending fulfils the same function. The condition of reticence felt in the tercet lines is interrupted by the means of the specific device based on the bringing of the narrationâs tension up to boil and abruptly ending.
Though the first lines of the poem seem rather convincing, their content contradicts to realms of life. Even not knowing the biography of the author, readers easily comprehend the sardonic character of the repeated refrain. In fact, the paradox of these lines is that real Bishopâs reaction to losses was not the acquiring of mastery; her life shows the opposite. Her stays in the hospital, suicide attempts, and problems with alcohol prove that she was not easily losing.
The poem âIn the Waiting Roomâ opening Geography III was repeatedly anthologized and criticized which lead to numerous investigations often producing misinterpretations and misreading of the poem. In the article âThe Geography of Gender: Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Roomâ, Edelman concludes that âCommentaries on “In the Waiting Room” tend to agree that the poem presents a young girl’s moment of awakening to the separations and the bonds among human beings, to the forces that shape individual identity through the interrelated recognitions of community and isolationâ (Edelman 182-183). He reproaches the critics H. Vendler, M. Wood, and S. Estess for identifying the narrative or âplotâ of the poem to interpret the poemâs critical events (Edelman 183). Evidently, the main idea or ideas of the poem lie deeper beneath the plot level. However, the realistic description of events based on literal details (exact issue of the magazine, captions titles and content) creates the necessary spirit for the development. This close approach to particulars supports the famous Bishopâs statement about truth in her poetry: âI always try to stick as much as possible to what really happened when I describe something in a poemâ (qtd. in Millier 196). On the other hand, this ingenious truth âgrounding in the literalâ and free verse form promote partly simplistic interpretations examining the plot lines instead of stylistic devices (Edelman 182).
On the broad narrative level, the poem tells about a visit to a dentist with the heroineâs aunt, which turned out to be a powerful stimulus for the childâs self-realization and correlation with the environment. An ordinary cover of a magazine was an incitement to find some common attribute for the unity to which the girl belonged. The girl is not surprised by the pictures ofÂ â the inside of a volcano/black, and full of ashes/then it was spilling over/in rivulets of fireâ (17- 20), âA dead man slung on a pole/ âLong Pig,â (24 – 25), âBabies with pointed heads/wound round and round with stringâ (26-27). Her attention grasped the photo of:
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying. (28 -31)
The symbolic reaction to the picture is cry, uttered simultaneously by the girl in the waiting room and her aunt in the dentistâs office. The cry uttered by the heroine at the sight of naked black women, in unison with her auntâs cry of pain, symbolized a young girlâs reaction to the photographs in the National Geographic and her connection with them. As noted by Hoff, âthe cry is the culminating symbol of exteriority, central to both the young subject’s and the reader’s experienceâ (53).
Bishop goes on to call herself by name with the recognition that she too is female, like her aunt, like the women in the magazine, âyou are an Elizabeth, / you are on of themâ (61- 62). However, the source of the cry is not precisely identified. Hence, the cry may be regarded as the authorâs reaction to self-realization. Edelman claims that the âneed to locate the place from which the cry or voice originates places the question of the voice’s origination at the origin of the textual problem in the poemâ (187).
The juxtapositions of inner and outer (Massachusettsâwaiting roomâoutside) are represented through constant changes of adverbial modifiers of place. This peculiarity noted by McCabe, Kalstone, Millier, Stevenson and other critics add to the analysis of âme-the otherâ concept revealed by the authorâs otherness. The cry is an embodiment of the reaction to the moment of self0realization. However, the findings of previous researches lead Edelman to the following conclusion: âThere is no inside in this poem that can be distinguished from its outside: the cry emanates from inside the dentist’s office, and from inside the waiting room, and from inside the National Geographic, and from inside “In the Waiting Room.” It is a cry that cries out against any attempt to clarify its confusions because it is a female cryâa Â cry of the femaleâthat Â recognizes the attempts to clarify it as attempts to put it in its placeâ(195 -196).
Throughout the poem, a double perspectiveâthe childâs and the adult’sâis subtly and consistently interwoven. The âchildishâ story reveals itself through simplicity of language and explicitly prosaic phrases. The age of the heroine-speaker (almost seven years old) flashes the reader back to the time when the girl was taken away from maternal family to reside with her late father’s family in Worcester. Nevertheless, the adult voice looms through the major concept of awakening, birth, recognition, growth, or shaping. It is an adult narrating, but an adult who is capable of reliving the point of view of the child, herself as a child, which occurred at a dentist’s office. The physical identification of the girl with other women is naturally expressed on the simplest âchildishâ level of thinking. The conclusion seems logical for a child who is regarding the relation to others, namely the emergence of gender awareness through anatomic attributes. Moreover, as Dodd statesÂ âthe young Elizabeth is not really discovering her sexuality so much as she is discovering her own participation in the human raceâincluding her gender identityâ (109).
From the standpoint of an adult, the moment of awakening offers a deeper reading which necessarily suggests allowance of the authorâs self-perception. Bishopâs identity also implies a broader self-realization, namely her lesbianism as otherness and accepted attitude to it. Still, the subtext of the poem is not presumably limited to âawakening of sexual orientation, and the poemâs subject is larger than a careful encoding of lesbian identityâ or early homoerotic awakening (Dodd 109). Indeed, the poem refers to more realms of Bishopâs life. It discloses one more roles endured by Elizabeth Bishop, the role of orphan accompanied by âa foolish, timid womanâ (42), the role of a person with ailment. The description of Aunt Florence (exotically named Consuello) points at the peculiar tension between her and niece, âa traumatic childhood confrontation with a woman to the onset of intense physical distressâ (Lombardi 158) One more significant aspect is the place of the happening. As Lombardi notes, the physical ailments of Bishop were transmuted by her âinto a rich cache of metaphors that help enact her sense of the worldâ due to which the location of the waiting room âopens up new ways for the reader to approach crucial images of respiration, suffocation, and constriction in each work-images that draw attention to the equivocal reality of human relationshipsâ (153 -154).
It should be noted that the process of self-identification is not associated with rebel or protesting. The speaker realized herself a part of âweâ hold up together by something. She endeavors to understand âwhat it was â¦ [she] wasâ (65) and how she can be âone of themâ (62). To underscore the crucial moment of identification the author uses syntactic strategy based on pronouns âyou are an I, / you are an Elizabethâ (60-61).
The moment, although unintended, is a coming of age for the young Elizabeth as she is thrust into the unknowns of womanhood, adulthood, and sexuality. She was just beginning to learn what it meant to live in a grown-up world, to be a human being, to be an adult, an âElizabethâ. âI knew that nothing stranger/ had ever happened, that nothing/stranger could ever happenâ (72, 73, 74). By the end of the poem, Bishop made discoveries that only the adult Elizabeth could truly comprehend. Though crucial event is summarized in the climax of the poem by the girl, it is impossible to ignore that it may be uttered by an adult:
Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How I didn’t know any
word for it how “unlikely”â¦ (76-85)
Not only does âIn the Waiting Roomâ take the reader to a place and time in one of Bishops earliest life experiences, it also compels the reader to examine the dramatic process of her discoveries, new insights, and new revelations. Hoff offers these âconclusionsâ to Bishopâs âIn the Waiting Roomâ: âThe reader-like a child in the presence of grim and silent adults-knows some critical, impenetrable meaning lurks under carefully restrained wordâ ( Hoff para 8). Hoff goes on to say, âThese veneered details keep the reader as profoundly in the waiting room as young Elizabethâ ( Hoff para 53).
The poem calmly ends by the familiar smooth tone of the first lines which shows the returning to the realms of war and harsh winter. The anticipation of some breakthrough does not realize in any action. The process of self-identification has finished. The thoughts may be hide the self-identification from the environment; but no one can hide from erupting volcanoes cannibalism, real war actions âinsideâ this inner world. The allusion to realms of life brings the heroine down to earth:
Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918. (94-99)
To summarize, Elizabeth Bishopâs artwork goes beyond âmere wordsâ that have been artistically interwoven by poetic devices. Her communicative techniques offered its readers personal glances into some of her life experiences and influences. The poetessâ vision of the world was influenced by the losses she faced throughout her life.Â Her poetic talent resides in perfect ability of keen observation. Bishopâs speaker in her poetic confessions discloses the most intimate sides of life including painful moments from which she managed to draw inspiration. She was a person of compassion for even the smallest and insignificant of creatures, the passionate lover attempting to overcome lost love and the adult woman recanting an unforgettable childhood memory.
Through the written word, Bishop echoed insights into the human condition. She mastered the art of portraying realistic images of objects and places, as well as soliciting emotional responses from her readers. Three particular pieces of Bishops work âThe Fishâ, âOne Artâ, and âIn the Waiting Roomâ reveal different periods of Bishopâs life; they shed light on one of the aspects of her life: hobby, childhood, emotional experiences. Each poem epitomized various qualities of Bishops individuality and significant personal knowledge. The named poems vividly reveal her personality through childhood memories, interaction with the environment and nature, moments of self-identification.
Despite the complicated symbolic messages present in most poems, they are transparent and comprehensible to amateur readers due to thought-over keen observations represented in the simplest way. The unity of these elements makes the poetic style of Bishop recognizable. Elizabeth Bishop had the ability to write in a way that allowed her readers to view things from her perspective. The personal poetic voice and realistic images caused the evaluation of the authorâs qualities through the works written. It is the main proof of how powerful this poetry is. All aspects related to form, diction, symbolism, autobiographical background should be taken into consideration to provide a proper understanding of Elizabeth Bishopâs creative work.
Bishop, Elizabeth. âThe Fish.â Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters. Ed.Â Robert Giroux, Lloyd Schwartz. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2008. 33-35. Print.
Bishop, Elizabeth. âIn the Waiting Room.â Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters. Ed.Â Robert Giroux, Lloyd Schwartz. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2008. 149-151. Print.
Bishop, Elizabeth. âOne Art.â Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters. Ed.Â Robert Giroux, Lloyd Schwartz. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2008. 166 -167. Print.
Diehl, Joanne F. âBishopâs Sexual Politics.â Elizabeth Bishop: The geography of gender. Ed.
Marilyn M. Lombardi. The University Press of Virginia, 1993. 17- 46. Print.
Dodd, Elizabeth. âMastering Disaster. Elizabeth Bishopâs Tonal and Formal Understatement.â The Veiled Mirror and the Woman Poet: H. D., Louise Bogan, Elizabeth Bishop, and Louise Gluck. Ed. Dodd, Elizabeth. University of Missouri Press, Columbia, 1992. 104 -149. Print.
Edelman, Lee. âThe Geography of Gender: Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room.â Contemporary Literature 26. 2 (Summer, 1985): 179-196. Print.
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Kalstone, David. âElizabeth Bishop.â Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 2. (2004): 290-292. Literature Resource Center. Gale Virtual Reference Library.Â National University Library. System. Web. 10 Aug. 2009. <http://go.galegroup.com/>.
Lensing, George S. â”The Subtraction of Emotion in the Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.” The Gettysburg Review 5.1(Winter1992): 48-61. Rpt. In Poetry Criticism. Ed. Elisabeth Gellert.Â Vol. 34.Literature Resource Center. Gale Virtual Reference Library.Â National University Library System. Web. 10 Aug. 2009. <http://go.galegroup.com /ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=nu_main>.
Logan, William. âThe Unbearable Lightness of Elizabeth Bishop.â Southwest Review 79.1 (1994): p120-139. From Literature Resource Center. Gale Virtual Reference Library.Â National University Library System. Web.10 Aug. 2009. < http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p =GVRL&u=nu_main>.
Lombardi, Marilyn M. âThe Closet of Breath: Elizabeth Bishop, Her Body and Her Art.â Twentieth Century Literature 38. 2 (Summer, 1992): 152-175. Print.
McCabe, Susan. Elizabeth Bishop: Her Poetics of loss. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA 1994. Print.
Millier, Brett C. Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of it. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993. Print.
Sircy, Jonathan. âBishopâs ONE ART.â Explicator. 63.4 (Summer 2005) 63. 4: 242 -244. Print.
Spires, Elizabeth. âOne Life, One Art: Elizabeth Bishop in Her Letters.â New Criterion 12.9 (May 1994): 18-23. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol.121. Detroit: Gale, 2002. From Literature Resource Center. Gale Virtual Reference Library.Â National University Library System, 12 August 2009. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=nu_main>.
Stevenson, Anne. âElizabeth Bishop.â Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 2 (2004): 290-292. Gale Virtual Reference Library. National University Library System. Web. 12 Aug. 2009. <http://go.galegroup.com>.
Strand, Mark, and Boland, Eavan. The Making of a Poem. New York: Norton, 2000.
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