The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 02, 2010

Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker

Photo by Joseph Breitenbach Elizabeth Bishop -- a prolific and artful letter-writer, in addition to her obvious talents as a poet -- composed an astounding number of letters in her publishing years with The New Yorker. In 2011 FSG will release a collection of these letters, Elizabeth Bishop and the New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence, edited by Joelle Biele. 

Below you'll find a handful of letter excerpts concerning the publication of Bishop's poem, "Crusoe in England." // Adam Eaglin

(Photography courtesy of Alice Methfessel) 

March 25, 1965

Dear Howard:

            Richard Kelly flew up to New York last night, and by the time you get this you probably will have received a samba record and a letter from me. I think he said he'd met you...

            Before he left, he handed over a lot of odds and ends, the way our visitors usually do—match-folders from the Yale Club, extra US cigarettes & Kleenex, paper-backs, etc.—and also the March 13th New Yorker.  My own copy of course hasn't got here yet, and won't for several weeks.  If he hadn't given me that March 13th one, and I hadn't looked at it last night, instead of this letter you'd be getting a long poem called CRUSOE AT HOME...  It is a bit unnerving, isn't it...  Or is it just "great minds," even so far apart?  Well, they aren't really exactly alike, because mine is in the first person, more realistic and un-organized, etc.  I'll send it someplace else, and I'll send you a copy when I have time to make copies.

            Yours ["Robinson"] is very lovely—the cork image particularly fine, I think.

            I re-read Crusoe not long ago and found it morally appalling, but as fascinating as ever.  Have you ever read the travel memoirs of Woodes Rogers, the young captain who picked up Selkirk?[i]  The parts about him are brief, but very moving.

Telepathically yours,


{More after the jump.}

March 29, 1965

Dear Miss Bishop,

            Howard Moss just called in on his way out of town to ask me to ask you to please, please, please send the Robinson poem to us.

Sincerely yours,
Elizabeth Hawes

May 8, 1965

Dear Howard:

            I shall send you my Robinson Crusoe poem as soon as I give it a good dusting, —maybe this week.

Much love,

September 28, 1965

Dear Howard:

            I'm sorry I promised you my Robinson Crusoe poem and then changed my mind about it...  Perhaps I'll like it better again after a while.  In the meantime, here is another one ["Under the Window"] I hope you can use.

With love,

January 28, 1966

Dear Elizabeth,

And what ever happened (business) to the Robinson Crusoe poem?  I'll die if it suddenly comes out somewhere else.


April 24, 1967

Dear Howard:

This ["Going to the Bakery"], again, is not the poem I have in mind to send you, but something that sort of turned up.  The real one I think you'll like—almost done.  My Crusoe poem didn't please me when I finished it but maybe I'll re-write [it] sometime.

With love,

May 18, 1970

Dear Howard:

            I am awfully tired of sitting on this egg and thing maybe it has hatched, after all ["Crusoe in England"]...  It is quite unlike your Crusoe, as I remember him.  I won't mind if you can't use it, however.


P.S. on page 3—should it be "Which is the bliss" or "That is the bliss"?   I have Wordsworth here somewhere, but can't find him, and I am always uncertain about which and that—please don't tell any one.  [in hand: "I hope I haven't stolen your title?  If I have, I'll change it. E."]


May 19, 1970

Dear Howard:

            I was awfully tired yesterday when I mailed you the Crusoe poem.  This morning, I think I've improved it quite a bit, so if you happen to want it, will you please use this version?

With love and all,

June 2, 1970

Dear Elizabeth,

            We're delighted with CRUSOE IN ENGLAND and, of course, we're taking it.  I hope to be able to send you a check and an author's proof before I take off for the summer, which will be on June 20.

            I was particularly fascinated by the poem because of mine.  No, my title (I think) was simply ROBINSON.  I'm hesitant about that because I know I changed it several times.  It definitely was not CRUSOE IN ENGLAND.  (I don't have any of my books here.)



June 15, 1970

Dear Howard:

            I'm glad you can use CRUSOE.  I want to change one word, but shall do it on the proof.  I seem to be working again at last, after three years, and hope to send you a whole batch of things.  Meanwhile here is another I think I once spoke of ["In the Waiting Room"].

With much love,


April 6, 1971

Dear Elizabeth,

            Here's the proof of CRUSOE IN ENGLAND, and there are a few sticky spots, the stickiest of all being the Wordsworth quote on page 2, which has so many queries attached to it, I can hardly make out the trees for the wood.[ii]  Here they are, as I dope them out:

            First, the whole quote is an anachronism.  Is that ok?

            Second, the first "They" should be capped.  There should be a comma after eye.  "Which," on the other hand, should be in lower case.  The mark "tr" followed by a question mark means should the quotation marks precede the three dots or follow them?  And should the following "the" be capped?  In other words, should it look like this:


            ("They flash upon that inward eye,

            which is the bliss"...The bliss of what?




            ("They flash upon that inward eye,

            which is the bliss..."  The bliss of what?


If you have a Wordsworth edition that uses different caps and lower case letters from the ones we suggest, I'd stick to whatever the printed edition says.  I do think, though, that the quote should come after the three dots and that the following "The" should be capped. 

            I think all the other queries are clear.[iii]


June 15, 1971

Dear Howard:

            I don't believe I have corrected proof for the Robinson Crusoe poem, have I?  (I can't remember.)  There are two or three small changes I'd like to make before it is published.

With love,

June 18, 1971

Dear Elizabeth,

            The author's proof of CRUSOE IN ENGLAND was sent to you in Brazil on April 6th.  It has never been returned, and I'd hate to have it all redone.  Do you think it's lurking around somewhere in Brazil?  Harvard?  Wherever?  If we have to, we'll have another one made up, but it means going through the whole process of several people reading it again.  If you find it, please make the changes you mention in your letter.  If not, could you let me know?  And also what changes you want?  I'm enclosing an uncorrected proof of the poem for you to look at.  It is NOT an author's proof.



June 24, 1971

Dear Howard:

            I didn't receive the proof of CRUSOE IN ENGLAND, just that of IN THE WAITING ROOM.  I'm sending my corrections on a separate sheet. 

            I hope I've improved this a bit.  I didn't realize how sad it is until I saw the proof—ye gods!  Bits of it are about the Galapagos—taken from The Voyage of the Beagle, and did I tell you I'm going there, in August?  I'll send you a color picture of a blue-footed booby.  While you're being civilized in England, I'll be sitting on a lava beach with a sea-lion—they say they're so tame they come and sit right down beside you on the beach when you go swimming—join the party and grunt sociably—


Elizabeth Bishop [centered]


(or approval of those made in copy sent me June 18th, 1971)


Galley 1:          bottom of page.  The word cloud—singular.

                        "     "     "             As set.[iv]


Galley 2:          1st questioned line OK (... hours apart.)

                        Same paragraph, last line: "a faltering stammering philosophy."

                        3rd paragraph, last line: omit "badly".

                        Last paragraph, 2nd line, shd. be a stop.

                        "   "   "             1.8: "or" is not italicized.

                        "   "   "             1.9: please change to "(I'd time enough to play with names),"                                  "   "   "                      4th line from bottom—no indentation.[v]


Galley 3:          next to last line—no punctuation at the end of the line: "... measles

                                                seventeen years ago come March."[vi] 

July 6, 1971

Dear Elizabeth Bishop,

I enclose the author's proof for CRUSOE IN ENGLAND—the proof that was lost last April—along with a copy of Howard's letter that accompanied it.  I have made all of the corrections on the proof that you asked for in your letter from Cambridge of June 24th, so that you need deal only with Howard's questions and the few queries on punctuation and the like.

Robert Hemenway


July 21, 1971

Dear Mr. Hemenway,

            Thank you for the proof—I didn't receive the first copy, last April—and I was amazed to see all the other corrections, too.*  I didn't know there had been a problem about "anachronisms" —& Wordsworth.  Apparently those objections were dropped along the line, and some of the punctuation troubles, etc., as well—I don't remember them at all on the copy Howard sent me in Cambridge, in June.  If you can look at that copy—I did correct EVERYTHING on it.  I don't know your usage as to some hyphenated words, but I am sure that "cloud-dump" should be hyphenated, since it's a made-up word; also "left-over" is hyphenated, in the SOED (but maybe you don't use that).  So is "home-made".  I don't care one way or the other about the hyphens—but of course they should be consistent.

            One important correction, please, is on galley 2, last line of the 2nd paragraph, or 1st complete paragraph: please have it read: "a miserable philosophy."  (I seem to have had trouble with that adjective.)

            And just after that, I did correct, on the copy I returned to Howard (not a proof, he wrote), line 3 in the next paragraph, and I see it is the only thing not appearing corrected on this proof you sent me.  It should read: "Greek drama or astronomy?"—[vii]

*  There are several "anachronisms," and several islands combined, on purpose—the date is obviously later than Alexander Selkirk's experience, and the island not his.

The W quotation shd. read as I've corrected it—or agreed with your reader.[viii]

Sincerely yours,
Elizabeth Bishop


September 7, 1971

Dear Elizabeth,

            This is my first day back and I've just read through the proofs of and the correspondence on CRUSOE IN ENGLAND.  My God!  Espionage and codes seem simple by comparison.  Anyway, I think I've got it all doped out now, and what I'm sending you is the overmatter—or the version we now think is absolutely correct.  Incorporating your changes, your responses to our queries, and so on and so forth.  NOTHING NEED BE DONE ABOUT THIS PROOF.  I send it on to reassure you, and myself, that we now have the poem as you would like to see it printed.



September 12, 1971

Dear Howard:

            Thank you for sending me the "overmatter"(?!) copy of the Crusoe poem.  I'm sorry; I hadn't realized I'd made it so difficult.  It looks quite all right now and thank you.


Related: Henri Cole reading Elizabeth Bishop's "The Shampoo"


[i] A Cruising Voyage Around the World (London: Bell and Lintot, 1712).


[ii] Bishop submitted the sixth stanza lines as: "'they flash upon that inward eye / Which is the bliss'—the bliss of what?" (The New Yorker Records and Vassar College Library).


[iii] Moss made additional changes.  In stanza two, line one, he removed the colon after "fifty-two".  In line two, he added after "miserable".   In line three, he removed the comma after "strides" and inserted a dash.  In line six, he removed the comma after "others" and inserted a comma after "up".  In stanza five, line ten, he put commas on either side of "at a distance".  In line twenty, he inserted a comma between "and" and "dizzy".  In stanza eight, line eight, he removed the commas from either side of "or".  In line nine, he removed the period after "names".  In the last stanza, five lines from the end, he removed the comma after "work" and inserted a comma after "but" (The New Yorker Records and Vassar College Library). 


[iv] In the third stanza, six lines from the end, the proofreader questioned whether "their heads in cloud" should be plural and the spacing of the ellipses between "glass" and "I" three lines from the end (The New Yorker Records).


[v] Bishop is either referring to the proofreader questioning the period at the end of "I tried it, one by one, and hours apart." or the period in "(I think it had the weirdest scale on earth.)" in the fifth stanza, lines thirteen and nineteen.  Bishop changed "my indistinct philosophy" to "a stammering philosophy" at the stanza's end.  In the last line of stanza seven, Bishop removed "badly" from "got badly on my nerves."  In stanza eight, the proofreader questioned the period at the end of the second line: "like a big tree in a strong wind, its leaves."  In line eight, someone questioned whether "or" should be italicized between "Mont d'Espoir" and "Mount Despair".  Bishop changed line nine from "(I had enough time for full names)," to "I'd time enough to play with names),".  She also wanted "His pupils, perpendicular, narrowed up" left-justified.


[vi] Bishop had submitted the poem's second to last line with a comma after "measles".


[vii] Bishop had originally submitted the phrase in the sixth stanza as: "Greek, or astronomy, preferably."


[viii] It ran as: "'They flash upon that inward eye, / which is the bliss...'  The bliss of what?"


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Eric Karpeles

The photo of Bishop on this post should be credited to Alice Methfessel, Bishop's executor, not Josef Breitenbach.

Ryan from FSG Poetry

Right you are, Eric. We've updated the post with the correct caption. Thanks for pointing it out!

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