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Elizabeth Bishop: peer of Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath

She wished to be judged on the basis of her talent, not the fact that she was a woman

  • One Art
  • 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, 
  • Lose something every day. Accept the fluster 
  • of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. 
  • The art of losing isn’t hard to master. 
  • Then practice losing farther, losing faster: 
  • places, and names, and where it was you meant 
  • to travel. None of these will bring disaster. 
  • I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or 
  • next-to-last, of three loved houses went. 
  • The art of losing isn’t hard to master. 
  • I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, 
  • some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. 
  • I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. 
  • - Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture 
  • I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident 
  • the art of losing’s not too hard to master 
  • though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
  • Sestina
  • September rain falls on the house. 
  • In the failing light, the old grandmother 
  • sits in the kitchen with the child 
  • beside the Little Marvel Stove, 
  • reading the jokes from the almanac, 
  • laughing and talking to hide her tears.
  • She thinks that her equinoctial tears 
  • and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 
  • were both foretold by the almanac, 
  • but only known to a grandmother. 
  • The iron kettle sings on the stove. 
  • She cuts some bread and says to the child, 
  • It’s time for tea now; but the child 
  • is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears 
  • dance like mad on the hot black stove, 
  • the way the rain must dance on the house. 
  • Tidying up, the old grandmother 
  • hangs up the clever almanac 
  • on its string. Birdlike, the almanac 
  • hovers half open above the child, 
  • hovers above the old grandmother 
  • and her teacup full of dark brown tears. 
  • She shivers and says she thinks the house 
  • feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove. 
  • It was to be, says the Marvel Stove. 
  • I know what I know, says the almanac. 
  • With crayons the child draws a rigid house 
  • and a winding pathway. Then the child 
  • puts in a man with buttons like tears 
  • and shows it proudly to the grandmother. 
  • But secretly, while the grandmother 
  • busies herself about the stove, 
  • the little moons fall down like tears 
  • from between the pages of the almanac 
  • into the flower bed the child 
  • has carefully placed in the front of the house. 
  • Time to plant tears, says the almanac. 
  • The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove 
  • and the child draws another inscrutable house.
Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was an American poet who grew in prominence during the so-called “Confessional” period in poetry of the 1950s-1960s, which saw such poets as Robert Lowell (1917-1977) and Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) using their personal lives as the subject of their poems; but Bishop, who was close friends with Lowell, wrote poems marked by a fine eye for detailing the physical world and relied more on objective exposition – distancing herself from her material even when it was personal through the use of the third person narrator – than on subjective introspection. Bishop won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1956 and the National Book Award for poetry in 1970. Despite being a woman and a lesbian, Bishop eschewed the feminist indulgence in the identity politics of the time, refusing to allow her work to be published in all-female anthologies and, according to some feminist critics, may have even been hostile to the feminist movement in general. However, Bishop argued that she wished to be judged on the basis of her talent, not the fact that she was a woman.

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  • One Art
  • 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, 
  • Lose something every day. Accept the fluster 
  • of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. 
  • The art of losing isn’t hard to master. 
  • Then practice losing farther, losing faster: 
  • places, and names, and where it was you meant 
  • to travel. None of these will bring disaster. 
  • I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or 
  • next-to-last, of three loved houses went. 
  • The art of losing isn’t hard to master. 
  • I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, 
  • some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. 
  • I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. 
  • - Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture 
  • I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident 
  • the art of losing’s not too hard to master 
  • though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
  • Sestina
  • September rain falls on the house. 
  • In the failing light, the old grandmother 
  • sits in the kitchen with the child 
  • beside the Little Marvel Stove, 
  • reading the jokes from the almanac, 
  • laughing and talking to hide her tears.
  • She thinks that her equinoctial tears 
  • and the rain that beats on the roof of the house 
  • were both foretold by the almanac, 
  • but only known to a grandmother. 
  • The iron kettle sings on the stove. 
  • She cuts some bread and says to the child, 
  • It’s time for tea now; but the child 
  • is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears 
  • dance like mad on the hot black stove, 
  • the way the rain must dance on the house. 
  • Tidying up, the old grandmother 
  • hangs up the clever almanac 
  • on its string. Birdlike, the almanac 
  • hovers half open above the child, 
  • hovers above the old grandmother 
  • and her teacup full of dark brown tears. 
  • She shivers and says she thinks the house 
  • feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove. 
  • It was to be, says the Marvel Stove. 
  • I know what I know, says the almanac. 
  • With crayons the child draws a rigid house 
  • and a winding pathway. Then the child 
  • puts in a man with buttons like tears 
  • and shows it proudly to the grandmother. 
  • But secretly, while the grandmother 
  • busies herself about the stove, 
  • the little moons fall down like tears 
  • from between the pages of the almanac 
  • into the flower bed the child 
  • has carefully placed in the front of the house. 
  • Time to plant tears, says the almanac. 
  • The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove 
  • and the child draws another inscrutable house.
Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was an American poet who grew in prominence during the so-called “Confessional” period in poetry of the 1950s-1960s, which saw such poets as Robert Lowell (1917-1977) and Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) using their personal lives as the subject of their poems; but Bishop, who was close friends with Lowell, wrote poems marked by a fine eye for detailing the physical world and relied more on objective exposition – distancing herself from her material even when it was personal through the use of the third person narrator – than on subjective introspection. Bishop won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1956 and the National Book Award for poetry in 1970. Despite being a woman and a lesbian, Bishop eschewed the feminist indulgence in the identity politics of the time, refusing to allow her work to be published in all-female anthologies and, according to some feminist critics, may have even been hostile to the feminist movement in general. However, Bishop argued that she wished to be judged on the basis of her talent, not the fact that she was a woman.

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