The American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) published only four small volumes of poetry during her lifetime. When she died her reputation was modest, but since then her poetry has gradually gained respect and popularity with a general audience. There has also been a rise in critical opinion, and Bishop is now regarded as one of America’s major poets.
Bishop is considered an autobiographical poet, and the main focus of this thesis is Bishop’s use of biography. I analyze how she approaches her personal material, and how she uses biography in her work, by looking at poems from various stages of her career. I discuss her artistic development from “antiautobiographical” to autobiographical poet. Bishop’s poetry is subjective right from the start, but none of the early poems are explicitly autobiographical. However, as her writing emerged she became more directly personal, and the poems of her last book are deeply rooted in childhood memories and loss.
I argue that knowledge about Bishop’s life gives her work an extra dimension, and that it represents a key to understanding the poems. I conclude, nonetheless, that it is important to consider her poems as artistic expressions rather than as attempts at veiled autobiography.