Elizabeth Bishop's Brazil: An Attraction in Difference

  • Tom Winterbottom Stanford University
Keywords: poetry, travel, letters, Rio de Janeiro, belonging


The correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop during her years in Brazil with fellow poet Robert Lowell shed light not only on her personal impressions and experience there but also on the broader atmosphere of Brazil in the 1950s and 60s. The abundant letters show an intimacy that Bishop was willing to explore in personal correspondence that was not readily forthcoming in her published poetry. The present essay analyzes that correspondence alongside the few poems Bishop wrote in or about Brazil to understand her pursuit of belonging and happiness that found an unlikely home—and a tragic end—in and around Rio de Janeiro for almost twenty years. Bishop’s trajectory from love to loss and happiness to tragedy intimately interacts, this essay argues, with changes in midcentury Brazil, from the national development pursued by Vargas and Kubitschek, including the building of Brasília, to the fallout from the 1964 military coup and beyond.