Elizabeth Bishop, homosocial, lesbian, poetry, confessional, literature


This thesis examines Elizabeth Bishop's seemingly understated and yet nuanced poetry with a specific focus on loss, love, and language through domesticity to create a poetic home. In this sense, home offers security for a displaced orphan and lesbian, moving from filial to amorous love, as well as the literary home for a poet who struggled for critical recognition. Further, juxtaposing the familiar with the strange, Bishop situates her speaker in a construction of artificial and natural boundaries that break down across her topography and represent loss through the multiple female figures that permeate her poems to convey the uncertainty one experiences with homelessness. In order to establish home, Bishop sets her female relationships on a continuum as mother, aunt, grandmother, and lovers are equitably represented with similar tropes. In essence, what draws these women together remains their collective and familiar duty as potential caretaker, which is contrasted by their unusual absence in the respective poems that figure them. Contrary to the opinion most scholars hold, Bishop's reticence was a calculated device that progressed her speaker(s) toward moments of self discovery. In an attempt to uncover her voice, her place in the literary movements, and her very identity, critics narrowly define Bishop's vision by fracturing her identity and positing reductive readings of her work. By choosing multiple dichotomies that begin with a marginalized speaker and the centered women on her continuum, the paradox of Bishop's poetry eludes some readers as they try to queer her or simply reduce her to impersonal and reticent, while a holistic approach is needed to uncover the genesis of Bishop's poetic progression. To be sure, Bishop's women conflate into the collective image of loss, absence, and abandonment on Bishop's homosocial continuum as a way to achieve catharsis. Bishop's concern with unconditional love, coupled with the continual threat of abandonment she contends with coursing through her work, gives credence to the homosocial continuum that is driven by loss and love with the perpetual need to create a language to house Bishop from the painful memories of rejection. Bishop situates her speaker(s) in the margins, since it is at the center when the pain of loss is brought into light, to allow her fluid selves release from the prison loss creates. By reading her work through the lenses of orphan, lesbian, and female poet, the progression of her homosocial continuum, as I envision it, is revealed. It is through this continuum that Bishop comes to terms with loss and abandonment, while creating a speaking subject that grows with each poem. Without her continuum of powerful female relationships, Bishop's progression as a poet would be far less revealing. Indeed, defining herself through negation, Bishop's sense of homelessness is uncovered in juxtaposition to her centered female subjects, and I delve into these contestations of space/place as well as her figurations of home/ homelessness to discern Bishop's poetic craft as she channeled the painful details of her past, thus creating her "one art."


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Graduation Date



Smith, Ernest


Master of Arts (M.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities



Degree Program









Release Date

April 2009

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)