Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Elizabeth Bishop - Poet Laureate

All my life I have lived and behaved very much like the sandpiper - just running down the edges of different countries and continents, 'looking for something'. 
Elizabeth Bishop was born on February 8, 1911. During her childhood, she was pass around from family member to family member. When she reached adulthood, she received a large inheritance from her father, that enabled her to travel and live as she chose. She traveled, and she wrote poetry. In fact, she was the US Poet Laureate from 1949 to 1950, as well as the recipient of an impressive number of awards and fellowships.

I remember reading some of the works of Elizabeth Bishop in high school. Although her works are visually evocative, I was mostly inspired by her personal story (or the limited version of it we got in public school). Here was a woman who was independently wealthy, who was well-traveled, and who could practice her art unhindered. In the 1980s, there were plenty of examples of independently wealthy people who were squandering their time and talents, and here was a woman who did something productive.

It wasn't until later that I learned she was a lesbian and a feminist. Which knowledge only made me admire her more. Which makes me think she didn't have as easy a life as I had originally thought. When I read her biography, I learned that her lover had committed suicide, which makes me think she wasn't the happy-go-lucky woman I'd imagined her to be. Given this perspective, I appreciate her quiet, thoughtful poetry.

Her poems do not discuss the personal details of her life, but they do describe the intimate details. And, for me, it is this impersonal intimacy that I identify with most.Who doesn't have these similar longings?
I Am in Need of Music

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
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!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.
Happy birthday, Elizabeth Bishop.


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