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!