Bishop’s lightness of bearing cannot disguise a darkness of being. Gaiety barely disguises the resistant sadness — there is a peculiar infantilism in Bishop, and I fear that is what we love. Yet her warmth and reticence divide her from the confessional poets whose blared secrets she so disliked. She was a displaced person, physically and emotionally; her poems reveal that terrible rootlessness, even when rooted in Nova Scotia, or Florida, or Brazil (she joked that she moved “coastwise”). Even her first book was discreetly fashioned like an itinerary, from childhood in Nova Scotia through New York, Paris and Key West. Bishop worried that she had “wasted half one’s talent through timidity” and feared that her poems were “precious”; yet her luxuriant vision is tempered and restrained by the anxieties beneath. Her weaker poems ramble prosaically, offering only a scatty attention to the world; and perhaps one day readers will find her portraits of Brazilians affectionate but condescending — drawn to the quaint and naïve, she was all too privileged an outsider. This poet of travel and dream, of lost childhood, of angular moral vision (and a gloomy soul) lived in a 20th century still at times lost in the 19th — indeed, the untouched jungle of the Brazilian poems sometimes harks back to the Americas newly discovered.
more from William Logan at the New York Times here.