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"Flowing, and Flown": Elizabeth Bishop and the Mystery of Closure

By: Debapriya Sanyal

Elizabeth Bishop published about 90 poems in her long writing career of nearly four decades. This is a remarkably small corpus of poetry for a poet of her weight and stature. It is more remarkable in the light of the large volume of unfinished poems, fragments, notes and sketches uncovered by recent scholarship. She also had unusually long gestation periods for her poems and often completed them even twenty years after a first rough draft. All this prompts an enquiry into this reticence and the will to not publish, even not complete. This paper tries to think a few thoughts on the poetics of closure and particularly the mystery of closure in Bishop’s poems. Closely engaging with some of her poems, letters and prose writings, it tries to approximate a few principles which lie at the heart of Bishop’s praxis as a poet, ideas dearly held whose rigour and vigilance allowed her to keep only this much as published literary legacy.


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