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A Service in Memory of Elizabeth Bishop. Agassiz House. October 21, 1979
n.p., 1979. 8 pp. 8vo. Original self-wrappers, unstitched as issued. Light marginal wrappers. 8 pp. 8vo. A scarce Bishop item, being the program for her memorial service held at Harvard two weeks after her death on October 6, 1971. Among the participants listed on p 3 are Alice Methfessel (Bishop's partner and muse for the final decade of her life), John Ashbery, Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Giroux, Octavio Paz, Helen Vendler, and Frank Bidart. Page 4-8 feature music and lyrics for the hymns sung at the service. OCLC records only three copies. Megan Marshall's recent biography of Bishop, A Miracle for Breakfast (2017), opens with an account of the service: "... more than one hundred of Elizabeth Bishop's friends and former students sat on folding chairs in a mahogany-paneled reception room [of Agassiz House], growing warm in the sunlight from the high windows on an unusually hot Sunday in late October. Waiting. Waiting to hear from a succession of friends and poets, Ashbery most eminent among them, the one assigned to read first. Waiting to sing, accompanied by portable Hammond organ, the hymns-"Rock of Ages," "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "Dear Lord and Father of mankind, Forgive our foolish ways!"-that buttressed the poetry but not the faith of Elizabeth Bishop, a resolute "Unbeliever," as she had titled an early poem.... Alice Methfessel ... signaled the organist to begin. "We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing," the mourners sang. And then blond, athletic Alice spoke in her steady musical voice, quoting the elegiac last lines of E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, saying all she would in public: "Wilbur felt about Charlotte exactly the way I feel about Elizabeth ... [she was] 'a true friend and a good writer.'" ... John Ashbery finally arrived, to read Elizabeth Bishop's sestina "A Miracle for Breakfast." It was the first of two she'd written, sparking a vogue for the ancient form in younger writers. Ashbery had discovered the poem as a college student in the mid-1940s, he explained, ten years after its initial publication in Poetry magazine. Bishop's sestina-clever, incantatory, casually epiphanic-inspired him to try one of his own, the first poem he'd written that he considered worth saving. He'd felt "close" to her ever since, though like many of her admirers, he scarcely knew Elizabeth Bishop..." (pp 1-4) This copy originates from the library of Methfessel (1943-2009), whom Bishop met in the fall of 1970 at Harvard, where she'd taken a position teaching advanced writing. Despite an age gap of 22 years, the two began a romantic relationship that would last almost a decade, until Bishop's death in 1979. They were constant companions, Methfessel serving as muse and sustaining force in the final years of Bishop's life. Bishop's last book, Geography III (1975), was dedicated to Methfessel, and a six-month breakup in the women's relationship was the catalyst for one of Bishop's most celebrated poems, "One Art" ("The art of losing isn't hard to master...").
      [Bookseller: James Cummins Bookseller]
Last Found On: 2017-08-16           Check availability:      Biblio    

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