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from a letter to Robert Lowell, by Elizabeth Bishop

A topic by Jared Sinclair created Jun 23, 2019 Views: 92
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This is an excerpt from a letter that Elizabeth Bishop wrote to Robert Lowell regarding some poems he sent her. The poems would later be published as a volume titled Dolphin, which dealt with the dissolution of his marriage to Elizabeth Hardwick. The poems included quotations from difficult and pained letters Hardwick had send him following his departure. 

It’s hell to write this, so please first do believe I think Dolphin is magnificent poetry …

I’m sure my point is only too plain … Lizzie is not dead, etc.—but there is a “mixture of fact & fiction,” and you have changed her letters. That is “infinite mischief,” I think. The first one, page 10, is so shocking—well, I don’t know what to say. And page 47 … and a few after that. One can use one’s life as material—one does, anyway—but these letters—aren’t you violating a trust? IF you were given permission—IF you hadn’t changed them … etc. But art just isn’t worth that much. I keep remembering Hopkins’ marvelous letter to Bridges about the idea of a “gentleman” being the highest thing ever conceived—higher than a “Christian” even, certainly than a poet. It is not being “gentle” to use personal, tragic, anguished letters that way—it’s cruel.

I feel fairly sure that what I’m saying (so badly) won’t influence you very much; you’ll feel sad that I feel this way, but go on with your work & publication just the same. I also think that the thing could be done, somehow—the letters used and the conflict presented as forcefully, or almost, without changing them, or loading the dice so against E. (but you’re a good enough poet to write anything—get around anything—after all) It would mean a great deal of work, of course—and perhaps you feel it is impossible, that they must stay as written. It makes me feel perfectly awful, to tell the truth—I feel sick for you. I don’t want you to appear in that light, to anyone—E, C,—me—your public! And most of all, not to yourself.