One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

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Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is a retrospective contemplation on how it should be easy to deal with losses. The poem is structured as a villanelle and, as such, has a refrain. The refrain does not change structurally but, it’s meaning changes as the poem progresses. Bishop achieved this mainly through the evolution of imagery in the villanelle which moves from superficial objects to references of places and people that are deeply personal to the speaker. The speaker’s break in her confident façade in the final stanza also contributes to the change in the refrain’s meaning as it reveals how the speaker is not so unaffected by losses. Likewise, the repetition of disaster helps frame the evolution of the refrain’s meaning as the word is used in different contexts. Last but not least, the refrain’s structure and diction allow it the flexibility needed for the meaning to change.
The poem follows the structure of the villanelle very closely. “One Art” has five tercets and one quatrain that have the same two repeating rhymes. The villanelle also requires two refrains that are presented in the first tercet as the first and last line and then are alternately used as the final line of each tercet until the quatrain where they are used as the third and fourth line. In the poem, there is one obvious refrain which is “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” (Bishop, 1). This refrains is fairly consistent throughout the poem. However, Bishop does not strictly adhere to the villanelle structure when dealing with the second refrain. The second refrain is not a typical refrain as in it is not a repeated line but a repeated word. Bishop uses the word “disaster” (Bishop, 3) in the place of a whole entire line (for clarity’s sake during this essay i...

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...at the beginning it simply seems to be saying that it is easy to lose things, by the end it is clear that the poem speaks volumes about how loss is not as simple as it seems and it can be extremely difficult to cope with. When the vulnerable and emotional side of the speaker is exposed, the speaker’s statements of it being easy to lose things no longer ring true. Additionally as the imagery becomes more personal it becomes harder for the speaker to deny that their loss is not a disaster and that it does not affect the speaker. Because of this, the refrain becomes more than a comment on the ease of losing things but more the complex emotions that revolved around coping with loss.

Works Cited

"Elizabeth Bishop: Biography" Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014 http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/elizabeth-bishop

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176996
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