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[McCabe quotes the last six lines in "At the Fishhouses"]

In usurping and reversing the usual functions of tenor and vehicle, deliquescence becomes the central term and knowledge a way to convey it. Bishop’s epistemology makes knowledge "utterly free," makes it a diffuse and unlimited entity. The juxtaposition within the phrase "forever, flowing" heightens our sense of endless solubility and flux. And what force is "drawing" the paradoxically "dark" and "clear" water of knowledge? The only agent in this stanza is our imagination, which is deferred through the introductory "It is what." We only have approximation in time, not possession or final certitude; all knowledge is "derived." If our experience links up somewhere, it is with those "rocky breasts," the originary source of our knowledge, both feminized and resistant. The "cold, hard mouth" tells us nothing. Our language and imaginative act shows us ownership only in fluidity: Bishop has us flowing and flown at once.



from Susan McCabe, "A Conspiring Root of Desire: The Search for Love," Chapter 3 in Elizabeth Bishop: Her Poetics of Loss (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 136-137