Friday, July 6, 2012

Bishop on shame (just when you thought you could hold up your head)

Beloved friend and fellow poet Bronwen Tate sent me this extract from Elizabeth Bishop's "The Country Mouse" in her Collected Prose:

"Three great truths came home to me during this stretch of my life, all hard to describe and equally important. Emma and I were sitting under the chestnut trees, making conversation in the way both children and adults do. She asked me about my parents. I said my father was dead; I didn't ever remember seeing him. What about my mother? I thought for a moment and then I said in a sentimental voice: "She went away and left me. . . She died, too." Emma was impressed and sympathetic and I loathed myself. It was the first time I had lied deliberately and consciously, and the first time I was aware of falsity and the great power of sentimentality -- although I didn't know the word. My mother was not dead. She was in a sanatorium, in another prolonged 'nervous breakdown.' I didn't know then, and still don't, whether it was from shame I lied or from a hideous craving for sympathy, playing up my sad romantic plight. But the feeling of self-distaste, whatever it came from, was only too real. I jumped up, to get away from my monstrous self that I could not keep from lying."

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