She disliked being photographed and usually hated the result. The whitening hair grew thick above a face each year somehow rounder and softer, like a bemused, blue-lidded planet, a touch too large, in any case, for a body that seemed never quite to have reached maturity. In early life the proportions would have been just right. A 1941 snapshot (printed in last winter’s Vassar Bulletin) shows her at Key West, with bicycle, in black French beach togs, beaming straight at the camera: a living doll.
The bicycle may have been the same one she pedaled to the local electric company with her monthly bill and Charles Olson’s, who one season rented her house but felt that ‘a Poet mustn’t be asked to do prosaic things like pay bills.’ The story was told not at the Poet’s expense but rather as fingers are crossed for luck—another of her own instinctive, modest, lifelong, impersonations of an ordinary woman, someone who during the day did errands, went to the beach, would perhaps that evening jot a phrase or two inside the nightclub matchbook before returning to the dance floor.
- James Merrill on Elizabeth Bishop.
The above are the first two paragraphs from Merrill’s essay on Bishop in The Company They Kept, Volume Two, a collection of twenty-seven accounts of the deep and abiding relationships between many The New York Review of Books contributors and their fellow poets, writers, and artists. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the photograph of Bishop in bathing suit with bike, but if you’re interested in other famous literary friendships, The Daily Beast has made a fun slide show in honor of the book.