Original poem reprinted online here: "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop
Originally read: October 21, 2013
More information about the Poet: Elizabeth Bishop
I probably wrote 2-3 essay about this poem in my college career; furthermore, I read this poem out loud as one of my favorite poems. This poem, no matter how many times I read it, still brings a big impact at the end. Yes, there are tons of criticism out there already on this poem, but this poem came up, and, well, I'm not skipping my chances for this.
The poem is a villanelle which has the refrain lines in the first and third lines of the first 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." The poem starts out playful but the subject has so much gravitas. "Loss" isn't a big joking matter -- the subject is subjective though or rather how does someone feel when they lose something.
"Lose something every day. Accept the fluster / of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. / The art of losing isn't hard to master." Simple, self-contained episodes on the page with this episode being humorous. Who hasn't lost door keys? This is something that everyone can relate to. And with just only an hour lost. But what reoccurs in this poem is the gravitas, "The art of losing isn't hard to master" which foreshadows a reflective quality to the poem.
"Then practice losing farther, losing faster: / places, and names, and where it was you meant / to travel. None of these will bring disaster." This stanza works differently than the previous one where the speed, the tempo, and the seriousness of loss is ramp up, but then undercut with the twist on the refrain, "none of these will bring disaster." And the idea here seems to be losing the general, nothing specific that have the "intent to be lost."
"I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or / next-to-last, or three loved houses went. / The art of losing isn't hard to master." Here the poem introduces the speaker and personal vestment. With the admittance of losing the mother's watch and the houses -- these things happen, but the key to this poem is how to interpret "And look!." Cynical? Sarcastic? Surprised? Angry? The line holds a lot of emotional weight.
"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." This idea parallels with the generalities in the second stanza, but with a different perspective. By going general here, it feels that the speaker is distancing herself from the importance of loss as though to exaggerate what the speaker can have. Can the speaker have cities or rivers or continents? No, but the speaker can keep the memory of them -- it's not so much a disaster. Then what is?
- 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.
The shan't have lied has personal implications here for multiple reasons here. the speaker becomes fully vested at loss at this point it feels the past stanzas were set-up to escape feeling loss; furthermore, "lied" is also in reference to a person in which the speaker, still, at this point doesn't admit feelings of loss, but implies regret.
The last two lines play with the forced repetition. Here the speaker tweaks the line to have a parenthetical. There's so much emotion contained with "(Write it!)" just like the line "And look!" The brevity creates this emotion. In the former case, the impact is the forcing of the speaker to write, "like disaster" as though the speaker is still trying to belittle the experience, still trying to escape, but can't. "(Write it!)"