Metaphysical Surrealism in the Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop

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English (Scripps)

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American Literature | Literature in English, North America | Women's Studies


I want to begin by reflecting upon the term "metaphysical surrealism" itself, which may strike one at first as either tautological or obscure. Surrealism clearly assumed a realm beyond that of empiricism, and thus a certain degree of "metaphysics"—of supersensible capacity—was always implied in the surreal. However, the specifically religious cast of surrealism is not so widely acknowledged. Many who study the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop, for example, agree that she was influenced by surrealism, that she read André Breton, that she studied the work of Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. But how might the influence of surrealism connect to Bishop's uneasy but persistent concern with religion? This question has not been asked because surrealism is often seen as primarily an aesthetic influence with a secular, mostly psychological, foundation. Nevertheless, in what follows I will try to show that surrealism was appealing to Bishop precisely because from the beginning it promised to negotiate between time and eternity.

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