In ‘First Death in Nova Scotia’, she pieces together, as a child’s mind would, the details in order to understand them: ‘Arthur’s coffin was / a little frosted cake, / and the red-eyed loon eyed it / from his white, frozen lake.’ It has been said that Bishop preferred geography to history and it is significant that she remembers reading , contains the idea of opposites but opposites that co-exist.
Yet her descriptions of place are never just descriptions of place.
She dwells on the country’s traditions (‘In another country the clogs would all be tested’), religious influences (‘a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque’), history (‘the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages’).
In her poetry there is self-discovery, a sense of difference, moments of heightened awareness (epiphanies), a strong sense of here and now, an absence of any religious belief but a belief in the mystery of knowledge ‘flowing and flown’.
In ‘At the Fishhouses’ what begins as accurate and gradual description of landscape gives way to a downward movement towards the dark cold centre of meaning, here imagined as deep beneath the ocean surface and something that we can never know or understand fully.
In Bishop the act of writing and the art of writing bring shape and order to experience.The main purpose of these notes is to assist you in forming an overview of Bishop’s work.For this reason the material is structured as a series of ‘thinking points’, grouped under general headings.These cover the poet’s main preoccupations and methods, but they are not exhaustive.Neither are they ‘carved in stone’, to be memorised: ideally they should be altered, added to or deleted as you develop your own set of notes.She only wrote of her childhood experiences late in life: ‘Sestina’, ‘First Death in Nova Scotia’ and ‘In the Waiting Room’ all date from when she was in her fifties.In these poems she captures the confusion and complexities of childhood, its terror, panic and alienation.It was at its height between 1800 – 1830 and the main architects of this movement were Wordsworth, Keats and Coleridge.There follows a list of some of the main distinguishing features of Romanticism.This priceless pearl of wisdom can be applied to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop but it equally applies to all the other poets on your course as well!The poems that we will analyse are: The Fish, Filling Station, The Prodigal.