One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem is characterized by undermining its rigid villanelle structure and puts it in the context of emotional tension. The central theme of One Art is that of loss, and it shows how an individual ought to deal with it. Under her context, she was able to distance the losing and instead turned it into art which helped her to deal with the pain of the loss. A brief look at her life shows that she lost her father at the tender age of 8 months and the mother succumbed to mental illness, and later on in life, she lost her love to suicide. This paper seeks to delve into One Art by Elizabeth Bishop by highlighting the important things that we can lose in life that could range from simple things and culminate into the pain of losing our loved ones.

The choice of the words, One Art, cannot be overlooked in a bid for her to present her primary theme for the poem. To deal with the pain of losing anything, she first levels out the things we lose from simple things like house keys to the loss of life. This is captured by the selective words she uses;

“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 wordings are in conformity that a loss is a human condition that we must master to live with. It is, therefore, prudent for all of us to accept human nature as well as accept and deal with the loss. The presentation of the first stanza is rather emotional probably because she wants to set the mood and the purpose of the poem. It is formed into a conversational tongue-in-cheek-tone perhaps with the aim of personalizing the issues surrounding the lose and owning up on how to deal with the situation.

First forward, the author is not hesitant in outlining the two common things to lose, keys and time. In the second stanza, there is enjambment which acts as a link between lines one and two which serves to make the reader to slow down and contemplate the pain of losing our keys. She achieves her aim of making the readers relate with the lose and agreeing that losing has some universality attached to the lose. She says in stanza two

Then practice losing farther,

Losing faster

The message she is driving herein is that we should not see it as hard to master and probably accept that a lose is not too hard to take and that it should not be treated as a disaster.

In stanza three, she creates an intense environment and she presents a far-fetched emotional tension. She is able to appeal to the emotional through touching on both emotions and memory leaving a permanent spot that cannot quickly be forgotten. The development of the stanzas is such that their rigid structure. She goes ahead to try and demonstrate the universality of power and that our losses should be well thought off. In stanza four, Elizabeth is very definite with the loss of her mother’s watch. She is symbolic of the family time that has been lost, from the houses and she says, three loved houses went. The statement serves to mention that the homes were lost.

The fifth stanza presents the readers with the lose of not only the cities but also the author seems to have lost the whole continent. The context we are being presented with, is very drastic, she questions how to endure such dramatic disasters. Finally, in stanza six, Elizabeth ends the poem in style and the choice of words like even and too in her bid to like with the family members reveals her rationale the bottom-line of it all is that Elizabeth is not able to contemplate the pain that is associated with the loss of something.

In conclusion, therefore, based on the above analysis, it is quite evident that disasters as presented by Elizabeth, though difficult and painful to cope with, they should shape us. The lose of anything could be very painful and it could leave us confused, however, the reaction accorded with the lose is essential. The reasoning behind this poem is that how individuals react to the loses, then how best we focus on the positivity. According to Elizabeth, we should be able to come out strong and with a smile while coming out with a precautious act. The poem is suggestive that we should be the masters of the art of losing; however, the question is by so doing, will we lose make us believe in ourselves. Most definitely yes, borrowing from Elizabeth ‘personal experience serves as an article that needed to be tested on the experiences and how to deal with personal loses and how to come out smiling.





Works cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. One art. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

Bishop, Elizabeth. “One art.” The Iowa Review 10.1 (1979): 76-76.

Ellis, Jonathan. Art and Memory in the Work of Elizabeth Bishop. Routledge, 2018.

McCabe, Susan. Elizabeth Bishop: Her Poetics of Loss. Penn State Press, 2010.