Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Elizabeth Bishop: Master of Disaster!

In reading and reflecting upon this poem and the poet's work, I was intrigued by the interplay between the stanzas. It feels to me that this work is in itself her cathartic relief of the grief she had experienced in her life. As the stanzas progress she only exposes herself to the real grief in the final line of the poem, using negatives to negate each other stanza:

-their loss is no disaster (3)
-isn't too hard to master (6)
-None...will bring disaster (9)
-isn't hard to master (12)
-it wasn't a disaster (15)
-it may look like (Write it!) like disaster (18)

In each of these lines, the last from each stanza, she progresses through various losses and in doing so fortifies herself for the greatest loss at the end, the one that will breach her defense to actually affect her. The repetition she uses reinforces the conflict between her loss and ability to cope with that loss, but she grows stronger throughout the poem. At first, it is too hard to control her grief, then it isn't hard at all; however, it ultimately becomes impossible, as she is not facing a false disaster, but a real one. In that final stanza, the conflict implodes in the loss of her love. At first, she uses "the joking voice" to keep the reality of the loss away; yet, when ultimately forced to control and overcome this grief, she has no outlet other than her poetry, and she must write it. Bishop exposes her own conflict between grief and art in this final moment, for if mastering grief is an art, then it is only through her art that she can control it.

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