The title of Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry collection is Questions of Travel. What do you think are the questions of travel to which the title refers, and what, if any, are the answers that Bishop offers in her poems?

In Questions of Travel, Elizabeth Bishop puts many of her questions within the title poem, the most fundamental of these being "Why travel at all?" The uses Bishop makes of her own travels, including the vivid imagery within the poem, provide her answer.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Questions of Travel," the title poem of the collection, Elizabeth Bishop asks several questions about travel. First, she asks:

Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?

A little later, in the following stanza, come the questions:

Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

Subsequent questions are attempts to answer some of these questions. Should you have stayed at home? Perhaps so, but would it not have been a pity to miss what you have seen on your travels, and the thoughts these images have created in your mind? This is an important question for a poet, and the poem itself, as well as other poems in the collection, provides the poet's answer in its vivid imagery. These are the images Bishop has gained through travel. In the penultimate stanza, she asks:

Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?

The answer in Bishop's case is no. The way in which the poet describes her environment preempts this charge. Travel for her is clearly not a substitute for imagination. Travel places objects before her eyes, but it is her imagination that creates the images. There is some dispute among scholars of Bishop's work about when, and therefore where, many of her poems were written. Her revision process was so long that in many cases there is probably no clear answer: the poems are products of many places and many thoughts. This cumulative process of composition allowed Bishop to extract the benefit of many different environments, none of which, as she remarked herself, was definitively home.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial