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A U G U S T   1 9 9 4

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THE UNFROCKED GOVERNESS

(for Elizabeth Bishop)

by Peter Davison



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Also by Peter Davison:
You (2000)
Best Friend (2000)
These Days (2000)
Falling Water (1998)
No Escape (1997)
On Mount Timpanagos, 1935 (1997)
Like No Other (1997)
"I Hardly Dream of Anyone Who Is Still Alive" (1995)
The Passing of Thistle (1989)
The Obituary Writer (1974)
Gifts (1965)
The Winner (1958)

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Round of face, with dimpled chin and cheeks
framed by her plumage of white hair,
the poet took a cup of tea and spoke
in stolid, undemonstrative discourse
six inches short of gossip. She disdained
the routine poets' talk of poetry
and poets, what she read, what she disliked,
even the poetry that she adored.
Something beyond this flickered in her eyes,
a glint of mischief or irreverence,
neither disclosed to me, although much later
I read of passions, fury, suicide,
legendary benders lasting weeks. Ah, how
could this dear old lady, orphaned as a child
by madness, give hostage to it in
the loves she chose, the fellow poets who,
loving her work and loving her, went mad
and died by striking at their enemies:
themselves? And she? Observant of gentility,
of the affections and obsessions, wrote
with painful effort, though the consequence
felt easy as the breath of summer. Pain
dogged her life, yet she insisted: Write it!





Copyright © 1994 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; August 1994; The Unfrocked Governess; Volume 274, No. 2; page 52.

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