Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Dave Smith


The intrigue of Elizabeth Bishop's poetic texts lies in the design of her sonic elements, vocalized by her dramatic personae as she directs her play of words. She manages a cohesion among her concept or content, the phonemic nature of her chosen words, and the rhythmic phrasing of her lines. Her poetic texts convey an enigmatic, yet natural, tonal quality that is produced by the juxtaposition of opposite strains or "strands" of voice--one shadowed, darker; the other light, brighter. These strands include the voice of a little girl as well as mature male and female speakers. Beneath, yet interwoven with them, is a directing "poetic tone" revealing and muting tonalities to be voiced by the poet's characterized persona. Throughout her life, Bishop queried and explored the differing facets of things and of her contacts with people and different geographies. Fascinated by questions of travel and place, as well as geographical and social directions, this poet's personae reflect through their dark and bright tonalities the differing attitudes and experiences of American society from the decade of the 1930's until her last published poem a few months before she died in October, 1979. The poems that span her writing life embody longing and laughter, and ultimately characterize her attitudes as darkly comic. Elizabeth Bishop maintains a rueful adaptability to the "awful but cheerful" constancy of flux in our time. In searching her tones that are accessible in their naturalness, yet elusive in their effects, one finds a remarkable complexity of intonation performed by Elizabeth Bishop's "braid of voice." The directing undertone supports the persona in voicing a dual, balanced tension that enlivens the whole work by suggesting there is something more to be spoken which is never sounded outright from its deep place in the poet's thought. Her directing third strand of the braid of voice that speaks her poetic text emerges gradually as a prominent intonation.