One Art – Elizabeth Bishop – Analysis

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979)

This poem is a villanelle consisting of five tercets rhyming ‘aba’ and a quatrain of rhyming ‘abaa’ Traditionally the lines are iambic pentameter.

The title One Art.

The title cannot be understood until reading the poem. If the way life to be lived is defined as the ‘The Art of Living’ and if this can be subdivided into countless components such as ‘The Art of Working’, ‘The Art of Communication’, etc. then perhaps one such component could be defined by ‘The Art of Losing’ and this is what life is all about and so too this poem – ‘One Art’ one very important art!

Looking at each stanza –

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Life can be regarded as a continual disappearance game as we lose things all the time – so this must be expected – it’s life! A villanelle as many repetitive lines so very appropriate to the nature of loss.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

We mislay things often and find then quickly hopefully and quite often these are things we use all the time like keys. Annoying and time consuming events that are just part of everyday life and not hard to master!

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

You meet many people visit many places and you lose them as they fade from current life. The question is – are they still latent in your life story. Perhaps of more importance to your thoughts are the places and people you have always been meaning to visit. This is a far different kind of loss because it engenders failure.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

No we start talking of those things of great value to who we are. Items of personal significance and places that have been are home through the years. We lose them as we move on but do not forget their significance or do we.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Then geography and countries and cities are condemned to loss. More so of course as you age and are confined to place after many years of experiencing travel and life in different countries. Elizabeth Bishop lived in Brazil for 15 years before her return to Massachusetts. Maybe not a disaster in that happy memories instils warmth to current life.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Here we end with the greatest loss perhaps – that of a close loved one; whether a partner or family member. And (Write it!) says with such emphatic voice that ‘losing’ is so hard.

This poem is the ‘Art of Losing’ and quite different from ‘The Art of forgetting’.

Elizabeth Bishop on Wikipedia

And an excellent analysis of this poem is on this Site

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