February 8, 2016 | by Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Homesickness” appeared in our Summer 2005 issue as part of a portfolio of her notebooks. Alice Quinn wrote of the poem,
Bishop began “Homesickness” in 1948, and the handwriting suggests that this draft may date from that time. In 1964, in a letter to Anne Stevenson, Bishop writes, “My mother went off to teach school at 16 (the way most of the enterprising young people did) and her first school was in lower Cape Breton somewhere—and the pupils spoke nothing much but Gaelic ... she was so homesick she was taken the family dog to cheer her up. I have written both a story and a poem about this episode but neither satisfy me yet.”
remote already & irreparable
Beneath the bed the big dog thumped
So she put up her hair & went to teach
[a little] from home —
at River Phillip, thirty miles away
the pupils were —
Cousin Sofie —
The salt pork & the buckwheat cakes
smelling like frying —
the oil lamp — the sloping bedroom
ceiling — in a low tent of sadly
her father her fretful mother & the jealous sisters —
* The family dog to keep her company.
not even realizing she was weeping
her face [her] nightgown drenched —
it was too late — for what, she did not know. —
already —, remote,
irrepairable (rhyme) irreparable.
Beneath the bed the big dog thumped her tail.