The Rhythm of Syntax in Elizabeth Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses”
Since the publication of North & South in 1946, readers have often praised Elizabeth Bishop for her composure. Recent scholars have uncovered the troubled personal circumstances by reading her poetry autobiographically, which tends to overlook the linguistic resources Bishop uses to dramatize her description. One formal device that my chapter focuses on is syntax. “At the Fishhouses” begins with an objective description of a declining fishing town, but it becomes more personal halfway through, arriving at a visionary conclusion. Since this grand ending is uncharacteristic for Bishop, the second half of the poem has received more critical attention than the first. But an intense emotional drama is already underway from the beginning, and her syntax registers it quietly.