The Map: How Elizabeth Bishop Perceives Geography

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In the 20th century, it is an era of prosperity of America, change with each passing day. With the development of new technologies makes public convenient and colorful, however, it causes numerous chaos around the world simultaneously. All those fresh things start to be mainstream in people’s life, people enjoy new songs and new movies, then they become the fan of the singers or movie stars, like Audrey Hepburn, Michael Jackson, etc. But there are always some cultures which are popularized by people will be last forever. In the year 1916, Elizabeth Bishop is born in Worcester, Massachusetts, United States. Elizabeth Bishop, who is a rising star, is one of the greatest American poetesses of the 20th century. After graduating from Vassar Women's University on the Hudson River in 1934, she roamed and moved between Canada, United States, Latin America, Europe and North Africa for dozens of times. Her first book, North & South, is first published in 1946 and wins the Houghton Mifflin Prize for poetry. A few years later, she wins the Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1956. According to the name of Bishop’s poetry, North & South, Questions of Travel and Geography III, it is not hard to find her passion about travel. The perception of geography is always Bishop’s creative inspiration and help her purifying the soul through the journey.

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The map, as the first poem which is recorded in the North & South, is her masterpiece undoubtedly and is also a typical landscape poem. The reason why Bishop’s poetry is the apex is not only because of her skilled rhetoric and elegant statement but also she is good at observation and finds the uniqueness of life. Bishop has a delicate mind, her works have the characteristic of tradition emotionally, combined with the advantage of modernism at the same time. The map describes some slight object – “see-weeded”, “sandy”, “glass”, “fish” and “hare”, those words reflect the high abilities of Bishop’s insight. Then, she delineates the big object, like “moon”, “sea”, “mountain”, “towns” and so on (Bishop, Giroux & Schwartz, 2008). After that, Bishop mixes all the objects, link them and insert them into the closely related line to picture the whole image of the landscape. Bishop shows the world in her eyes perfectly by her unique poetic language. “Stylistically, the most impressive gestures in this direction are phrases that combine emblems from all of the temporalities … Much of the poem concerns itself with similar interactions and blendings” (Cureton, 2016, p. 53). In my opinion, the method which Bishop builds the structure of The map breaks the rule in that era. No matter whether it is a creature, a landscape or a daily life, there is a unique discovery and her mentor is Charles Darwin. Bishop has the sensation of words and tones of nature, and it is her nature to focus on detail description.

Presumably, Bishop tries to develop distinct poetics by choosing geography as the metaphor to mirror social problems in that period, because of her subtle observation. The map is first publicized around the 1950s when Bishop visits in New York City. This happens to be the period of American feminist movement and social issue is always a creative motive. The most of female poets think Bishop is hostile towards the movement since she refuses to have her work published in all female poetry anthologies. But she still considers herself as a strong feminist, she only wants to be judged due to her quality of writing instead of her gender or sexual orientation. Bishop’s poetry has a series of comparison between object to express her ideas, for example, we can easily find out that there are light and shadow; sea and sky; town and forest in The Map as a comparable subject, to tell us that she has different thoughts and does not wish to be assimilated even they are under the same sky or in the same earth. “As elsewhere in Bishop, the geographic scale here indicates that there can be no escape to distinctive individuality, entirely separate from others…” (Hollister, 2012, p. 427). In addition, I think the words “run”, “quiet” and “investigate” represent Bishop is tired to be hurt by that gossip and begins the journey of spirit to relax herself.

Certainly, Bishop much favors geography over history in both realistically and psychologically. I think she tries to inspire creativity and imagination by geography. At the end of The Map, Bishop indicates clearly in words that “More delicate than the historians' are the map-makers' colors” (Bishop, Giroux & Schwartz, 2008). As I said before, the poem not just implies the style of her writing, but also shows that Bishop is a highly skilled poet. She signifies a great number of tiny object and then combines them into a line by metaphor and personification. “The rhythm of 'The Map' also presents a brilliantly delicate configuration of interacting psychic opposites/ complements” (Cureton, 2016, p. 57). In this way, while emphasizing the rhythm of poetry, it is also linked in the audience’s mind and stimulates our imagination. A Mexican poet, Octavio Paz, called Bishop that she is a fantasy realism. The words and phrases are so realistic, nonetheless, the rhythms are so illusory.

In the year 1979, a star fall, Elizabeth Bishop freezes herself at the age of 68. If I have to describe her in one word, it would be unsentimental. However, it does not mean she is a cold blood person, I believe deeply in her heart that she is an emotional woman with passion since she loves to travel around the world. Also, the friendship between Bishop and Marianne Moore is the best evidence to prove her susceptibility. Bishop is fascinated by geography through her entire life, she gets a lot of creativity from geography and her poems attach great importance to objective things and are full of precious respect and curiosity for nature and the world. Therefore, her poems have an overall texture, which is elegant and delicate, accurate and strange. And applied her unique analysis to poetry to express her views on social issues. The Map set a tone of her particular writing style and geography offers endless inspiration, that might be the reason why her works are all splendid.

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Bishop, E., Giroux, R., & Schwartz, L. (2008). Poems, prose, and letters (Library of America; 180). New York: Library of America: Distributed in the U.S. by Penguin Putnam.
    This is an example of an evaluative annotation. It is a collection of poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. Some vocabularies I used in the research are from this book.
  2. Cureton, Richard. (2016). A reading in temporal poetics: Elizabeth Bishop's 'The Map'. Style, 50(1), 37-64.
    This is an example of an evaluative annotation. The article focuses on the patterns forms of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Map”. The article contains full text of “The Map” and describes each parts of poem step by step. It expounds that form is closely related to rhythm. This the viewpoint of the article about “The Map”. Therefore, rhythm is componential and form is paradigmatic. It deeply analyzes the patterns forms and how rhythm combines with it. This combination is the reason why it is a temporal poetics.
  3. Hollister, Susannah L. (2012). Elizabeth Bishop's geographic feeling. Twentieth Century Literature, 58(3), 399.
    This an example of an evaluative annotation. The article focuses on analyzing Elizabeth Bishop's “The Map” and “Questions of Travel” by geographic and psychological theories. It expounds the reason why the most of Elizabeth Bishop's work is scenic poetry geographically and psychologically. They compare her poetry in different time periods to find out the pattern of her behavior. The article describes a great number of Elizabeth Bishop's experiences to explore what is driving her forward back to that time. They organize the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop by time and geographical orientation and resolve the behavior of her to verify the social meaning behind.
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