Saturday, August 13, 2011

It is Marvelous to Wake Up Together - Elizabeth Bishop

A couple of weeks ago I was doing my usual CBC Radio Sunday thing and listened to a documentary exploring the work of American poet Elizabeth Bishop. It is the centenary of her birth and there are many projects commemorating the event this year.  I rushed over to Amazon right a way and sent off for two of the newly published volumes, "Prose" and "Poetry".  They arrived on Wed and I have been dipping into her delightful poems each night since.

It is Marvellous to Wake Up Together
by Elizabeth Bishop

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air suddenly clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.

An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lighting struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;

And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking

This was not the first time I connected with this poet.  A Brazilian singer I like a lot - Luciana Souza -  has an album titled "Poems of Elizabeth Bishop".   I have blogged about this singer who does great Bossa Nova jazz before - she has set the lyric to Neruda's Love Poem 65 on her album titled "Tide".  Listening to the iTunes samples from her Bishop album, in which she has set 4 of Bishop's poems to music, I am tempted ... but no more purchases for me!  I am saving my shekels for travel!

According toWiki:
Elizabeth Bishop (8 February 1911 – 6 October 1979) was an American poet and short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia dedicated to her memory. She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century
Elizabeth was orphaned at a very young age and was adopted by her paternal side family after a bit of to and fro with her British relatives grew up with family in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father was quite wealthy and her inheritance kept her for her whole life and so was able to focus on her writing rather than having to marry or support herself.  She lived in Key West for a period of years - she was friends with Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway who had divorced Ernst by that time.   She also has claims as a Brazilian poet, as she lived  in Rio with her latin lover (Lota de Macedo Soares) for 15 years - I think she really  should be billed as an International Poet.   As has been the case for many great literary figures, there is the thread of emotional anguish and tragedy about her life circumstances which I expect fueled her work.

The Wiki article explains her sexuality as follows:
Bishop did not see herself as a "lesbian poet" or as a "female poet." Although she still considered herself to be "a strong feminist," she only wanted to be judged based on the quality of her writing and not on her gender or sexual orientation.
From my research, there is no doubt that she is one of the most important poets of her generation.  I love her poetry and look forward to finding some time to read her prose.   Her style described, in an  eZine article from Vogue:
Bishop’s work was highly personal, growing directly out of life experience rather than aesthetic exercise. She wrote about what she observed in a tangential way, so that the effect isn’t self-focused, but opens outward into a larger, more universal inquiry.

I have heard enough in these documentaries to know that there is much more to find out about this literary figure and I want to spend some more time with her.

If you wish to listen to the Radio Documentary go here:  Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be: 100 years of Elizabeth Bishop  She is well loved and celebrated still by her Nova Scotia family.

One Art 
by Elizabeth Bishop 
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.

As I researched facts for this blog I stumbled across a biography of Elizabeth Bishop on Google books "Elizabeth Bishop: life and the Memory of It " which I started to read. I think I shall go back there now and continue reading it for a while before I slip out the the Blue Mountain Peak to Shore Music Concert.  Looking forward to sipping some drinks on a patio tonight and listening to the Sarah Harmer concert.  I hope the rain holds off!

Have a great Saturday!


  1. You have surprised me with another writer I am not familiar with, Peggy.

    I could say I will go out and buy a book of Elizabeth Bishop's poetry, but I am so far behind with reading books I already have that it would be a futile gesture. But, if you are finding a bit of happiness in reading her work, I am glad for you. We all need the pleasure and breath of fresh air the words of a poet we enjoy bring into our lives.

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