WILLA v6 - Death, Domesticity, and the Feminine Gaze: Bishop's "First Death in Nova Scotia"

Volume 6
Fall 1997

Death, Domesticity, and the Feminine Gaze: Bishop's "First Death in Nova Scotia"

Martha Marinara

The world is all-seeing, but it is not exhibitionist -- it does not provoke our gaze. When it begins to provoke it, the feeling of strangeness begins.

--Jacques Lacan

You should use more objects in your poems. One can write very good poetry without vivid images, but I myself prefer observation.

--Elizabeth Bishop

Wallace Stevens wrote in his text concerning the imaginative process and aesthetics that "there seems to exist a corpus of remarks in respect to painting, most often the remarks of painters themselves, which are as significant to poets as to painters" (160). The connection between poetry and painting, a connection underscored by the process of gazing has been described many times in relation to Elizabeth Bishop's poems.

Thomas J. Travisano has described her poem "Seascape" as a "cartoon version of the Raphael original" (Travisano 120). Randall Jarrell wrote in Third Book of Criticism that Bishop's "minutely observant best poems ... remind one of Vuillard or even, sometimes, of Vermeer ... all exist on a small scale, and some of the later poems especially are too detailedly and objectively descriptive" (Jarrell 325). But it is not just description and details, pleasing as they may be to look at and read, that create for Stevens a sense of "aesthetic integration as reality" (159). Stevens further writes in Necessary Angel: