Born on February 8, 1911, a hundred years ago last week, Elizabeth Bishop wrote about her sudden, sickening childhood identifications with the sky-permeating female scream, and the dizzying awareness of her unavoidable fate: being human, "one of them," accompanied by "the sensation of falling off / the round, turning world / into cold, blue-black space." Of this never forgotten inward trauma, her cosmic fall into identity and time, she solemnly notes the date in these lines from her poem "In the Wairing Room": "I said to myself: three days / and you'll be seven years old. . . ./ And it was still the fifth of February, 1918."
The poet's first conscious creative act, then, was to establish the birthdate as synecdoche of origin, identity and fate. This fetishistic attitude toward the birthdate is in a sense universal and unavoidable, and a source of both the attraction and the antipathy to astrology.
Thirty years later Bishop commemorated her orphan's birthday with a stoical dejection ode, pivoting hopefully only on the very last word.