Mastering the Art of Losing in Elizabeth Bishop’s Poem, One Art

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Mastering the Art of Losing in Elizabeth Bishop’s Poem, One Art

In the poem “ One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop, the act of losing is raised to the level of an art form. Losing is, according to Bishop, something not to be mastered or dreaded. However, the irony is that Bishop struggles to believe her own hypothesis-- that losing “... isn’t hard to master...” yet “... is no disaster...” ( lines 1-3).

Naming the poem “ One Art” was done to show that the art of losing is one of many and loss is not to be taken as disaster or failure. Bishop maintains that most physical things, such as keys and watches, possess the inherent the desire to be lost. She knows that society is familiar with everyday loss, such as keys. Mastering this practice seems uniform and Bishop tries to convince that it is not disaster. However in line 10, the diction switches from the third person to being the first person narrator. Now, the loss is personal- that of a person or relationship. She is not only convincing everyone else that loss is no importance but trying and hoping to convince herself as well. The contrast here is, that both physical things and mental desires can be lost, but they should be taken emotionally the same, as suggested.

Bishop writes with humor and makes tragedy into a parody. Exclamation marks and a clever rhyming scheme helps to create a silly sing- song poem, justifying that losing things mentally and physically has no shame. In this villanelle the rhyme scheme employed is A-B-A, with continual repetition of the words “master” and “ disaster", reinforcing the universal point that:

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.
( lines 1-3)

Stating “Write It” ( line 19) , “ And Look!” ( line 10) are climactic points in which the speaker wishes to believe herself, that losing really is no disaster, so she must see it, and write it. In the beginning, the poem seems bubbly and unremorseful but as it develops, the speaker shows her real passion for something lost, “.

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"Mastering the Art of Losing in Elizabeth Bishop’s Poem, One Art." 21 Jun 2018
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... I lost two cities, lovely ones.” ( line 13). On line 16-17, she admits after hesitation ( the dash), “– Even losing you ( the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied.”

In this poem, the speaker is desperately trying to find some way to justify the loss of a person to the misplacement of a key or watch. As she has realized, losing and not regretting is truly “One Art” that takes practice and time, as do all other art forms.

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