Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Map. Appropriately enough, the explorations of North and South begin with an examination of a map. In “The Map,” the first poem of the collection, the speaker examines a map of the North Atlantic area. The map is tangible evidence to her of the riddles of human perception, whereby she sees real things as if they were symbolic and—more important in the poem—understands symbols as if they were real. The poem begins with a question of perception: How can the map, which is flat, represent something as three-dimensional as land and ocean? The second stanza offers examples of how the speaker (and, by implication, anyone) can translate the abstractions of a map into the vivid, sensual perceptions to which her understanding is attached. The speaker imagines peninsulas as women’s fingers, feeling the water between them as women’s fingers would feel cloth. In her imagination, the lines on the paper are like women’s fingers. This simile is presented simply as the means by which people make symbols understandable. This poem argues one of Bishop’s central themes about place—people understand it only as much as they experience it with their senses.


Paris. Capital of France and ostensible setting of Bishop’s poem titled “Paris, 7 a.m.” Its speaker draws general conclusions from the immediate particulars of her environment, as she wanders from room to room setting clocks in an apartment. She...

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(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Harrison, Victoria. Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetics of Intimacy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Studies the evolution of Bishop’s poems as vehicles for expression. Chapter 2 discusses intimacy and romance. Chapter 3 emphasizes the effect of events, particularly World War II, on Bishop’s imagination. Extensive notes, bibliography, index.

Kalstone, David. Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore and Robert Lowell. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989. The probing study of Bishop’s complex friendship with Marianne Moore coincides with the making of the poems of North and South. Notes, index.

Parker, Robert Dale. The Unbeliever: The Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1988. Studies the wishful nature of North and South—the anxiousness behind her poems, as well as Bishop’s readiness to look outside herself for subjects. Notes, index.

Stevenson, Anne. Elizabeth Bishop. Boston: Twayne, 1966. The best starting point to study Bishop’s life and work. Outlines the period relevant to North and South and examines several poems. Helpful primary and secondary bibliographies, notes, and index.

Travisano, Thomas. Elizabeth Bishop: Her Artistic Development. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988. Relates North and South to two phases in Bishop’s work—“enclosure” and “history.” Detailed but understandable interpretations of many poems. Illuminating explanation of Bishop’s interest in Surrealism and the Baroque. Notes, primary and secondary bibliographies, and index.