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This article is taken from PN Review 201, Volume 38 Number 1, September - October 2011.

Lowell (and Bishop) on the Slopes of Parnassus Tony Roberts
Can I suppose I am finished with wax flowers
and have earned my grass on the minor slopes of Parnassus...
                                                                         - 'Reading Myself'

Reputations bob like corks. William Empson opened an essay on Marvell's poetry with the words: 'Three hundred years should be long enough to make up our minds; we now seem to have arrived at an orthodox opinion about Marvell, but at the cost of ignoring the old opinion altogether'.1 In the short term especially, opinions are at the mercy of the prevailing tides of fashion, where there are more interested parties. Now, in her centenary year, Elizabeth Bishop's reputation is particularly buoyant. In a recent New York Review of Books article entitled 'A Genius Ill-Served' April Bernard goes so far as to claim, 'Bishop was one of the great artists of the twentieth century; her poems now tower over the landscape alongside those of Eliot and Stevens'.2 William Boyd, writing in the Guardian last year, was of much the same opinion, adding the names of Yeats and Auden for good measure and partly attributing the 'security' of Bishop's reputation to the two volumes of letters that have appeared: One Art and Words in Air (the latter, significantly, letters exchanged over thirty years with Robert Lowell).3 Bishop's apotheosis can be found in a heady article in The New York Times, where David Orr asserts: 'You are living in a world created by Elizabeth Bishop ... in the second half of the 20th century, no ...

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