Robert Lowell wrote the poem 'Water' about being on the coast of Maine in the summer of 1948 with Elizabeth Bishop; he put it first in his collection For the Union Dead, which he published in 1964. He sent Bishop a draft of the poem in March 1962, explaining that it was 'more romantic and grey than the whole truth, for all has been sunny between us. Indeed it all started from thinking about your letter, how indispensable you are to me, and how ideally we've really kept things, better than life allows really.' In her response, Bishop questioned the accuracy of Lowell's opening line, 'It was a real Maine fishing town,' and the line 'where the fish were trapped'. 'I have two minor questions,' she wrote.
As usual, they have to do with my George Washington-handicap. I can't tell a lie even for art, apparently; it takes an awful effort or a sudden jolt to make me alter facts. Shouldn't it be a lobster town, and further on - where the bait, fish for bait, was trapped - (this is trivial, I know, and like Marianne [Moore], sometimes I think I'm telling the truth when I'm not) . . . 'The sea drenched the rock' is so perfectly simple and so good.
LRB 14 May 2009 | PDF Download