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American poet (1911-1979)

The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.


I was made at right angles to the world
and I see it so. I can only see it so.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, Poems, Prose and Letters

The armored cars of dreams contrived to let us do
so many a dangerous thing.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "Sleeping Standing Up"

I had a theory at that time that one should write down all one's dreams. That that was the way to write poetry. So I kept a notebook of my dreams and thought if you ate a lot of awful cheese at bedtime you'd have interesting dreams. I went to Vassar with a pot about this big—it did have a cover!—of Roquefort cheese that I kept in the bottom of my bookcase . . . I think everyone's given to eccentricities at that age. I've heard that at Oxford Auden slept with a revolver under his pillow.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, The Paris Review, summer 1981

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.


Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.


To the sagging wharf
few ships could come.
The population numbered
two giants, an idiot, a dwarf.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "A Summer's Dream"

Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery:
impractically shaped and--who knows?--self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "Arrival at Santos"

I'd like to be a painter most, I think. I never really sat down and said to myself, I'm going to be a poet. Never in my life. I'm still surprised that people think I am.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, The Paris Review, summer 1981

Enormous morning, ponderous, meticulous;
gray light streaking each bare branch,
each single twig, along one side,
making another tree, of glassy veins.


Costume and custom are complex.
The headgear of the other sex
inspires us to experiment.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "Exchanging Hats"

Why shouldn't we, so generally addicted to the gigantic, at last have some small works of art, some short poems, short pieces of music ... some intimate, low-voiced and delicate things in our mostly huge and roaring, glaring world?

ELIZABETH BISHOP, attributed, The Accidental Collector: Art, Fossils & Friendship

From a magician's midnight sleeve
the radio-singers
distribute all their love-songs
over the dew-wet lawns.


I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn form the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "At the Fishhouses"

The tumult in the heart
keeps asking questions
And then it stops and undertakes to answer
In the same tone of voice.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "Conversation"

I never wanted to teach in my life.... I don't believe in teaching poetry at all, but that's what they want one to do. You see so many poems every week, you just lose all sense of judgment.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, The Paris Review, summer 1981

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling finger-tips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "I Am in Need of Music"

Whatever the landscape had of meaning appears to have been abandoned,
unless the road is holding it back, in the interior,
where we cannot see,
where deep lakes are reputed to be,
and disused trails and mountains of rock
and miles of burnt forests, standing in gray scratches
like the admirable scriptures made on stones by stones--
and these regions now have little to say for themselves
except in thousands of light song-sparrow songs floating upward
freely, dispassionately, through the mist, and meshing
in brown-wet, fine torn fish-nets.


But they made me realize more than I ever had the rarity of true originality, and also the sort of alienation it might involve.

ELIZABETH BISHOP, "Efforts of Affection: A Memoir of Marianne Moore"

I remember my mother taking me for a ride on the swan boats here in Boston. I think I was three then. It was before we went back to Canada. Mother was dressed all in black—widows were in those days. She had a box of mixed peanuts and raisins. There were real swans floating around. I don't think they have them anymore. A swan came up and she fed it and it bit her finger. Maybe she just told me this, but I believed it because she showed me her black kid glove and said, "See." The finger was split. Well, I was thrilled to death!

ELIZABETH BISHOP, The Paris Review, summer 1981

What the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.


The 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.



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