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Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems 1927-1979 Hardcover – 1983

4.7 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Elizabeth Bishop was vehement about her art--a perfectionist who didn't want to be seen as a "woman poet." In 1977, two years before her death she wrote, "art is art and to separate writings, paintings, musical compositions, etc., into two sexes is to emphasize values in them that are not art." She also deeply distrusted the dominant mode of modern poetry, one practiced with such detached passion by her friend Robert Lowell, the confessional.

Bishop was unforgiving of fashion and limited ways of seeing and feeling, but cast an even more trenchant eye on her own work. One wishes this volume were thicker, though the perfections within mark the rightness of her approach. The poems are sublimely controlled, fraught with word play, fierce moral vision (see her caustic ballad on Ezra Pound, "Visits to St. Elizabeths"), and reticence. From the surreal sorrow of the early "Man-Moth" (leaping off from a typo she had come across for "mammoth"), about a lonely monster who rarely emerges from "the pale subways of cement he calls his home," to the beauty of her villanelle "One Art" (with its repeated "the art of losing isn't hard to master"), the poet wittily explores distance and desolation, separation and sorrow. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Of all the splendid and curious works belonging to my time, these are poems that I love best and tire of least. And there will be no others."--James Merrill, The Washington Post Book World

"Bishop was one of the finest poets this country produced in [the twentieth] century; we are lucky to have all her work collected now in one volume."--Jane Howard, Mademoiselle

"Bishop was not just a good poet but a great one. She accomplished a magical illumination of the ordinary, forcing us to examine our surroundings with the freshness of a friendly alien."--David Lehman, Newsweek

"With their wit, honesty, abundance, imaginative breadth, and prosodic grace . . . thirty or forty of the poems in this book seem as valuable as any written in English since the last war."--Christopher Reid, The Sunday Times (London)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374127476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374127473
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,127,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Gosh, it is hard to sum up one's feelings about the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. She is one of those artists, like Shakespeare and Mozart and Cervantes, whose work contains such perfection it seems almost sacrilegious to comment upon it.
And she was ALWAYS a good poet. This volume proves it by publishing much of her juvenilia alongside more mature, better known poems as the wonderful "Florida", "Sestina", and the majestic "The Fish", a poem I enjoy teaching to my students every semester as a supreme example of imagery (I defy them to find instances of abstract language in the poem; there aren't many). Also included is an astonishing series of translations Bishop rendered over the years, mostly of South American poets, including Octavio Paz.
All in all, this is a treasure trove, a book for the ages, and a reminder of what we lost with Bishop's early death at age 68.
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Format: Paperback
No matter what sort of poetry you are drawn to--and here I include the Beowulf poet, the Metaphysical poets, the Modernists, etc.--Elizabeth Bishop can't be ignored. Her poems, from set forms like the villanelle "One Art" ("The art of losing isn't hard to master.") to the patchwork of imagery that is "The Fish" are all at the peak of expression. Bishop demonstrates virtuousity in a number of forms of poetry in this (relatively) slim volume. I especially appreciate her poems on travel and Brazil. This is a dead writer whose ideas of culture are still ahead of our time.
This book is a treasure trove. It rewards multiple readings. Bishop's craftsmanship has ensured that this book will continue to endure even as bigger names of her era fall by the wayside.
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By A Customer on May 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
Probably like a lot of people, I was led to Elizabeth Bishop by the dedication in Robert Lowell's great "Skunk Hour". I like many of the poems in this book. (I know next to nothing about poetry but, to give you an idea, my favorite poet is Yeats.) Bishop has a lot of thoughtful imagery, and she conceptualizes things in a fresh way. It often takes you aback. To take the very first poem here, "The Map," there're the lines: "The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still. / Labrador's yellow, where the moony Eskimo / has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays, / under a glass as if they were expected to blossom"
The book is in roughly chronological format, and naturally the poems on the whole seem to get better, subtler, through the years (a few things later are a little strange). Armadillo, referred to by Lowell, reads a bit like a companion piece of Skunk Hour: "This is the time of year / when almost every night / the frail, illegal fire balloons appear. / Climbing the mountain height, / Rising toward a saint / still honored in these parts, . . ." I confess my favorite poem here would be "Crusoe in England", a revery: "I felt a deep affection for / the smallest of my island industries. / No, not exactly, since the smallest was / a miserable philosophy. / Because I didn't know enough. / Why didn't I know enough of something? / Greek drama or astronomy? The books / I'd read were full of blanks", and then, back in England, "The knife there on the shelf--/ it reeked of meaning, like a crucifix. / It lived. How many years did I / beg it, implore it, not to break? . . . / Now it won't look at me at all.
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Format: Paperback
Elizabeth Bishop is one of the greatest American poets we've ever had--only Frost and perhaps maybe Whitman are more important. She is certainly Emily Dickinson's equal, and in my opinion, a finer poet. When discussing American poetry, Bishop can't be ignored. Her imagery, her use of form, her command over the language is rarely matched, and this collection contains all her work. There's her first book, _North & South_, which is one of the finest volumes of poetry produced. You'll find poems like "The Map," "The Man-Moth," "The Weed," "The Imaginary Iceberg," "Seascape," and the masterful poem, "The Fish." _A Cold Spring_ follows, containing "At the Fishhouse" and "Letter to N.Y." "The Armadillo" (Bishop's poem to Robert Lowell), "Filling Station," "Visits to St. Elizabeths" and "Sestina" (one of the few poems in this form that actually works) follows in _Questions of Travel_. Then there is a selection of uncollected work (1969) before we hit _Geography III_ which contains two of her best poems, "Cruso in England" and "One Art"--which is in my opinion her best poem. The collection rounds out with some more uncollected poems, juvenalia, and some fine translations. Overall, you have an important book by one of our most important poets.
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Format: Paperback
Poetry's allure is its ability to capture the essence of a moment: a picture in time, an emotion, a look. More than any other American poet, Elizabeth Bishop was able to do this, as her _Complete Poems_ illustrates. Regardless of poetic form she consistently is able to distill and share her unique vision of the world. It is a pity that there is not more of her work; the poetry she left us is beautiful and brilliant.
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