The reputation of poets is often fragile, dependent on changes in taste for certain themes, tonalities, and technical enthusiasms. This is particularly true of John Peale Bishop (who was ruefully aware of it), for he was rarely chosen for poetry anthologies and of little interest to the critics.
His major limitations were his lack of a singular voice or an individual style. His early poetry was influenced by several nineteenth century poets, including John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Algernon Charles Swinburne, and his later work revealed an enthusiasm for the twentieth century poets William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. His poems are often clever but lack originality (a touchstone for artistic praise) and that indefinable artistic sense of power that marks the great poet. His later poetry, however, often manages interesting ideas and possesses a laconic tone that is attractive.
“Speaking of Poetry”
The first poem in his 1933 collection Now with His Love uses a central problem of William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice (pr. 1604, pb. 1622; revised 1623) as a metaphor for the relation of poetry to ordinary life. How can Desdemona, so civilized and cultivated, so delicate and fastidious, be attracted to the rough animality of Othello? Unlike most twentieth century lyric poets, Bishop does not quite answer the question, although the poem is reminiscent of the problem poems of...
(The entire section is 1490 words.)
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