I’ve been reading “The Complete Poems 1927 -1979” by Elizabeth Bishop. She was born in 1911 and died in 1979. Along the way, she picked up just about every writing award available – Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships. And it doesn’t stop there.
I was introduced to Bishop’s poetry in the mid-1970s, and I “backed” into it. I was reading everything ever written by and about Flannery O’Connor, and she and Bishop had been good friends until O’Connor’s death in 1964 of complications from lupus. But once I finished reading O’Connor, I put Bishop aside. Only recently did I come across this volume of her complete poems, first published in 1984 . A few lines from “The Riverman” (1965):
I got up in the night
for the Dolphin spoke to me.
He grunted beneath my window,
hid by the river mist,
but I glimpsed him – a man like myself.
I threw off my blanket, sweating;
I even tore off my shirt.
I got out of my hammock
and went through the window naked.
My wife slept and snored.
Hearing the Dolphin ahead,
I went down to the river
and the moon was burning bright
as the gasoline-lamp mantle
with the flame turned up too high,
just before it begins to scorch…
I’m glad I found her poetry again.