John Peale Bishop was born in Charles Town, West Virginia, to a family of substantial wealth. He began writing poetry in his late teen years; Harper’s Weekly published a poem by him in 1912, a year before he entered Princeton University. He came to university somewhat later than most because of serious illness in his late youth. At Princeton, he was part of the literary coterie that included F. Scott Fitzgerald. After graduation in 1917, he earned a commission in the U.S. Army and served until the end of World War I.
In 1920, he became a prominent member of the New York City literary circle, working as an editor at Vanity Fair as well as writing poems, reviews, and comic pieces. He married Margaret Hutchins in 1922, and they went off to tour Europe. In 1924, they returned to New York, and Bishop worked in the office of Paramount Pictures. He also contributed occasional work to New York magazines. Dissatisfied with intellectual life in the United States, he returned to Europe, living in a chateau in rural France, but he continued to write for American publications. While there he published a book of short stories and a book of poems, Now with His Love.
Bishop returned to the United States in 1933, living for a short time in Connecticut, then in New Orleans. In 1935, he settled on Cape Cod, where he wrote some of his best poems. The December, 1940, death of F. Scott Fitzgerald was remembered in “The Hours,” and a series of somber, sonorous poems followed. Constantly troubled by serious illness, Bishop worked when he was able, in New York in the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and in editorial work. In 1942, his health forced him to return to Cape Cod. In 1943, he tried to work at the Library of Congress with the poet Archibald MacLeish but suffered a heart attack soon after his arrival. He returned to the Cape, where he continued to write poetry. He died in Hyannis Hospital on April 4, 1944.