Elizabeth Bishop on Why Everyone Should Experience at Least One Prolonged Period of Solitude in Life

By Maria Popova

Wisdom on the rhythms of creativity from a lighthouse daydream.

Words in AirOne can never be alone enough to write. To see better,” young Susan Sontag wrote in her diary. In solitude, Wendell Berry observed in his magnificent meditation on stillness, one’s inner voices become audible [and,] in consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.” For Keats, solitude was our greatest conduit to truth and beauty.

But too much solitude, surely, can isolate us and deaden the creative spirit, cutting us off from what Oliver Sacks has called, after David Hume, our essential “intercourse with the world.”

This delicate dance between solitude and communion is what the Pulitzer-winning poet Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911–October 6, 1979) explores in a letter found in Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (public library) — the epistolary record of one of the most beautiful and enduring friendships in creative culture.

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