Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
Volume 47, Number 3, Autumn 1991
pp. 71-91 | 10.1353/arq.1991.0018
RENEE R. CURRY Augury and Autobiography: Bishop's "Crusoe in England" In a conversation remembered by Robert Lowell and reiterated in a lettet he wrote to her on August 15, 1957, Elizabeth Bishop allegedly said, "In my epitaph you must say I was the loneliest petson who ever lived." The loneliness receded with the entrance and fifteenyear presence of Lota de Macedo Soares (Kaistone 177). According to Elizabeth Hardwick, Bishop's Brazilian lover . . . had wonderful, glistening, dark eyes and wore glistening datk-rimmed glasses. You felt, ot I felt, in het the legacy ot cutse of the Spanish-Portuguese women of the uppet classes. Some of the privileges and many of the restraining expectations were there, and they were not altogether in balance because she was not smug and not natutally tropical and indolent . ... L. [Lota] was very intense indeed, emotional, also a bit insecure as we say, and loyal, devoted and smart and lesbian and Brazilian and shy, masterful in some ways, but helpless also. She adored Elizabeth and in the most atttactive way, in this case somewhat featfully, possessively, and yet modestly and without any tendency to oppress. (Kalstone 150-51) The two women met in New York in 1942 and lived togethet from 195 1 -1967 mostly in Petropolis, Brazil, and in Rio de Janeiro. As always , Bishop ttaveled a good deal during this time: to Yaddo, throughout South Ametica, to New Yotk, down the Amazon, and to Seattle. During a trip to visit Bishop in New York in 1967, de Macedo Soares Arizona Quarterly Volume 47 Number 3, Autumn 1991 Copyright © 1991 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 6 10 72Renée R. Curry committed suicide and Bishop again wrote of loneliness to Lowell: "I miss het more every day of my life" (231). Elizabeth Bishop's poetry abounds in what she refers to as "gentle" revelations of autobiographical ttagedies (Kalstone 241). Interestingly, her poetty similarly teems with auguts, questions and otacles. In "Crusoe in England" (CP 162), Bishop uses augury as an archaic form of interrogation to delicately unmask a muted lesbian identity. Auguty allows Bishop the method to penettate slowly the layéis of the self that must be prodded by question; the castaway's island allows het the necessary isolation and place of incubation fot divination to occut; and, the poet's life story affords her the human impetative to intetrogate for answers. At the writing of "Crusoe," Bishop sustained a love relationship with Alice Methfessel. Only under the protection of current love could she affotd to finally look at her relationship with and the death of de Macedo Soares; only with some semblance of renewed emotional security could she btace herself for the voluntary and involuntary oracles delivered in this poem; and, only through the mechanisms of a matginal occult practice could she porttay a marginal way of life representable only as an "unnatural" sign to the world. In a comment about her early poem, "Man-Moth" (CP 14), Bishop admits to her propensity for recognizing supernatutal signs. She read a newspaper misprint for the wotd "mammoth" and decided that a message had been delivered to het: This poem was written in 1935 when I fitst lived in New York City. I've forgotten what it was that was supposed to be 'mammoth.' But the misptint seemed meant for me. An oracle spoke from the page of the New York Times, kindly explaining New York City to me, at least for a moment. One is offered such oracular statements all the time, but often misses them, gets lazy about writing them out in detail, or the meaning refuses to stay put. This poem seems to me to have stayed put faitly well—but as Fats Wallet used to say, 'one never knows, do one?' (Schwartz and Estess 286) This prose piece provides testimony for Bishop's attentiveness to things oracular, but the extent to which this poet "saw" needs enhancement. Poets have often been aligned with seers and associated with prophecy; Bishop's "Crusoe in Enghnd"73 thus, to demonstrate Bishop's abilities along these lines simply states the obvious: that Bishop joins a long ttadition of poets. I wish...