Study Guide

Questions of Travel Introduction

By Elizabeth Bishop

Questions of Travel Introduction

Do you ever wish you could pack your bags, hop on a boat or train or plane, and leave your stuffy life behind? Elizabeth Bishop sure did. She was born into a rich, fancy-pants New England family (that was not without some serious issues). Bishop went to an elite high school, and then attended Vassar, a leading all-women's college.

Then, she took off. She travelled all over the place: France, Spain, Italy, New York, North Africa. She lived in Key West for a while, and then headed to Brazil, where she would end up living for fourteen years. Talk about globetrotting.

Bishop had a sense of adventure, that's for sure. But she wasn't a wild and crazy explorer; she was more of a thinker, a contemplator. While she was in Brazil, Bishop wrote some of her best poems, and a lot of them—surprise!—had to do with travel.

"Questions of Travel" is one of these contemplative travel poems. It was first published in 1965 in a collection of poetry called—surprise again!—Questions of Travel. Bishop raises tons of questions in this poem and collection.

In fact, she mulled over these same questions for her entire life and career. Why do we want to leave our homes? Can we ever really leave them behind? What's the relationship between geography and emotion? Our physical landscape and our emotional landscape? What do we gain from traveling? How do we measure our experiences in faraway lands? And, once we've left, can we ever go home again?

Picture Bishop as an older, more poetic Dorothy. There's no place like home—or is there?

What is Questions of Travel About and Why Should I Care?

Some of us have the travel bug. We don't like to stay in one place for too long. We want to hit the road. We want to meet new people, to see new places, to eat new foods, to experience new cultures. If you've got this bug, you know it. You feel restless. You want to get moving. You've got itchy feet. Cabin fever. Whatever you want to call it, it's in your bones.

If you've got this travel bug, you'll definitely want to read "Questions of Travel." Have your road trip buddy read it aloud to you as you drive along the open highway. Or have the dude sitting next to you on the airplane take a look for himself. It'll make you think about your reasons for leaving your home, and it will tell you, beautifully, about mountain ranges, oceans, sunsets—all that good stuff that makes you want to start a journey in the first place.

In her poem, Bishop asks all those questions that you've been wondering about the Great Big World out there. She's thoughtful and contemplative. She's a traveller who thinks. She wants to know what's at stake in her journeys. She wants to learn. And that's what real traveling is all about, right?

Let Elizabeth in, and let her do all the hard work. We've got a feeling that you fellow travellers might just see eye to eye.

Questions of Travel Resources

Websites

Meet Ms. Bishop
A brief yet informative intro to our poet. Get the goods in one fell swoop.

Poetry Foundation
For a detailed look at Liz's lavish life.

Visit the Falls
Take a trip to Iguaçu Falls in Brazil. See—not so scary.

Elizabeth Bishop Society
Join it! You know you want to.

Video

Charlie Rose Takes on Bishop…
… with some smart and influential poetry peeps.

Bishop's 100th Birthday Party
In which a whole bunch of poetry lovers gather to celebrate her life and work.

Audio

"Questions of Travel" Get Asked Aloud
Skip to 46:15 to hear the poem. Or listen to the whole thing if you're up for some awesome Bishop verse.

Bishop Reads "The Armadillo"
Listen to the poet read her own work.

Images

An Outdoor Shot
Liz looking contemplative. Even a little outdoorsy.

Young Liz
See? Even wise poets were once just college kids.

Articles and Interviews

Straight Talk…
… with the poet herself.

Books

The Poems
Get 'em here.

The Prose
Here's a great source for Bishop's letters, travel essays, memoirs, and book reviews.

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