you are an Elizabeth
Today is the hundredth birthday of poet Elizabeth Bishop, as fine a poet as America produced in the twentieth century. I have a sense that, for the most part, Bishop is a poet's poet, one of those brilliant souls known by everyone in the tribe and not much remembered by those outside it. That may not be true, judging by the number of books by and about her on Amazon, but whatever her popularity, she has been by my side all my adult life. She is one of my oldest companions and most enduring spirit guides. The connection we make with the poets closest to us, alive or dead, is a powerful and intimate one. They exist perpetually in the present tense, speaking in our ears or whispering to our hearts; singing, casting light, or simply standing beside us with the assurance we are not spiritually alone.
I have turned to Elizabeth Bishop time and again for a certain deft insight that is at once bracing and consoling. Her poems have the lonesome, soulful music of the muted trumpet, a sound tinged with pain but detached from nostalgia. They grow from incidental scenes and small moments, finding immense dignity in the simple act of being wholly present come what may. This is "simple" the way the Tao is simple: a state unburdened by fear, illuminated by humility, opened to life. Few of us dwell in such grace; Bishop's poems embody it.
|Pansies, by EB, watercolor and gouache, 1960|
The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray,
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.
Excepts from In the Waiting Room, The Moose, One Art, and The Sandpiper, from Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems 1927-1979. Watercolor as seen in Exchanging Hats: Elizabeth Bishop Paintings