Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Elizabeth Bishop's Letters

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was a poet who lost both parents at an early age and was raised by her maternal grandparents and paternal relatives. She was independently wealthy and traveled to many countries, which she later described with great subtlety in her poems. She wrote slowly and published sparingly (about one hundred poems). It's a pity because during her lifetime, Elizabeth Bishop was underappreciated and her work won the admiration of her fellow-poets but never brought her the wider recognition she deserved.
Source: www.poets.org
To get some insight into Bishop's life, you can take a look at “The Art of Losing,” a delightful, moving selection of Bishop’s letters, published in 1994, with a short biographical introduction by Alice Quinn, The New Yorker’s poetry editor at the time. (The title is taken from Bishop’s poem “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.”). The first letter is from 1934, when Bishop was twenty-three; the last, from 1979, is the note she left on her classroom door when she fell ill, just before her death, at the age of sixty-eight. The letters capture her in many different phases of life, and show her hopeful, exhausted, struggling, and satisfied.

Or take a look at Thomas Travisano's Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (2010). Bishop and Lowell never stopped writing letters to each other, from their first meeting in 1947 when both were young, newly launched poets until Lowell's death in 1977. Lowell remarked in a letter to Bishop that "you ha[ve] always been my favorite poet and favorite friend." The feeling was mutual. Bishop said that conversation with Lowell left her feeling "picked up again to the proper table-land of poetry," and she once begged him, "Please never stop writing me letters―they always manage to make me feel like my higher self (I've been re-reading Emerson) for several days." And Lowell didn't stop writing to her until his death. 30 years' worth of delicious letters between two sensitive souls who, while their poetry could not be more different, inspired each other. It was an unconsummated love, as Bishop preferred women. Which of course, didn't prevent Lowell from almost proposing.

To conclude this entry, one of my favorite poems by Bishop, "One Art".

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.

I couldn't find a translation to Galician anywhere, so here is my attempt:

A arte de perder

Non custa moito aprender a perder;  
hai tantas cousas que parecen decididas 
a perderse, que a súa perda non é calamidade.

Perde algo todos os días. Acepta o agobio
das chaves perdidas, a hora malgastada.
Non custa moito aprender a perder.

Ensaia entón unha perda maior, máis rápida:
lugares, nomes, a onde tiñas pensado
viaxar. Ningunha desas perdas traerá calamidade.

Eu perdín o reloxo da miña nai. E mira! o último ou
penúltimo de tres fogares amados perdín.
Non custa moito aprender a perder.
Perdín dúas cidades, preciosas. E, mesmo,
algúns recunchos que posuía, dous ríos, un continente.
Bótoos en falta, pero non foi calamidade.

- Incluso perderte a ti (a voz algareira, un xesto
que amo) non tería mentido. É obvio
que a arte de perder non custa moito dominala
aínda que poida parecer (escríbeo!) unha calamidade.


  1. sounds like attending my literature classes all over again :)

    1. Good or bad memories of those classes?

    2. of course good ones, i had a wonderful lecturer.. and he never spoke Galicia :D