Friday, April 11, 2014

Poem of the Day: Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art"





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 loves 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.


~

A villanelle is, in many ways, a song. The form repeats and modifies lines over and over again and in new ways that change and reinforce their meaning. In Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” the line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” is the poem’s refrain, which is repeated four times. Each time this line returns, it becomes more haunting because it becomes more honest and true. Still, “One Art” isn’t dark or upsetting; rather, it has a light-hearted tone. As readers, we are introduced to the topic of loss, while the repetition, in a sense, serves to reassure us. We begin to believe the poem; Bishop uses the villanelle form to reveal what loss means to her (and perhaps us).

With each loss, from door keys to continents and loved ones, the poem shows us how inevitably and constantly we lose the things and people around us. The more we encounter the different levels of loss, and as Bishop explains, even when it seems like disaster, we learn how to cope—we improve at losing.

The first time I read “One Art,” I was immediately fascinated by the new meanings the phrase “the art of losing” gained as it repeats. I identify with this poem because I try to find the art and the beauty in everything, even the hardest emotions one must bear. And “One Art” is particularly important poem to me right now because I am starting to understand the stakes of love and loss more than ever. Even a love that may inevitably end is worth every precious moment and the harder the loss, the better the love. So, is perspective really the answer to master the art of loss? Bishop assures us that mastering the art of loss means you have lived.

“One Art” explains the inescapability of heartbreak as an aspect of life that we can’t help but practice. At the same time, though, “One Art” contains a spark of hope. Like a villanelle’s refrain, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem suggests that life will go on, even when we are crushed and crumbling, we persevere.  We survive. We master it.

   Tess Gann

Tess is a freshmen majoring in Spanish and Human Services and minoring in Creative Writing and hopes to travel the world as much as possible.


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