“I lost my mother’s watch”

The Millions has published a wonderful essay titled Anniversaries, Anesthesia and Elizabeth Bishop.  The author, Magdalena Edwards, weaves an analysis of  Bishop’s life and poetry using narrative threads of her own life.  The essay is like a DNA comprised of segments of Bishop and Edwards.  It’s what happens when we make companions of poems.

In the essay, Edwards attempts an explanation of a puzzling line in One Art, a poem about loss:

“In the tenth line, smack at the middle of nineteen lines on the art of losing, Bishop says: “I lost my mother’s watch.” She has already talked of losing keys, names, places one meant to visit, the wasted hour, and she will speak, in the second half of the poem, of losing houses, cities, rivers, and ultimately “you.”

I had never understood why her mother’s timepiece, a ticking mechanism held to her wrist, would anchor the poem. I had never understood that her mother’s watch also referred to her gaze, her presence, her watchful eye. Bishop lost her mother’s watch when she was a young child; her father died when she was an infant and by the time the poet was five years old her mother was sent to a mental hospital”

Amazing.  Of course, it fits.  I doubt we’ll ever know what the poet herself meant by “I lost my mother’s watch”, but I like how Edwards dissects it. And it would be so like Bishop to bury and disguise one of her greatest losses amongst a set of material things.

The full poem is here.

2011 marks Elizabeth Bishop’s 100th birthday so there will be more posts on her work.  As though one needs a reason!



  1. So glad to hear you will be sharing more of her poetry Kinna. She wrote one of my favorite poems which is tacked up beside my mirror, ‘Rain Towards Morning’. This book sounds really interesting and I love the way the author dissects that line, it really does make a lot of sense as an anchor that way.


  2. Hi Kinna,
    I’ve never read anything by Elizabeth Bishop before, but loved that poem. Losing does often feel like a disaster, but we go on anyway. I love how the analysis brings out the importance of that line, which I just read as one of the list of things lost originally, no more important than the houses, cities or door keys. To tie it in to so much early childhood loss makes it all the more poignant. I had somehow missed the existence of The Millions as well, so that was a bonus. Thanks for the post!


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