One Art By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent1
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster2
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-last3, of three loved 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.

About the Poem

Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ is a poem whose apparent detached simplicity is undermined by its rigid villanelle structure and mounting emotional tension. Perhaps her most well-known poem, it centers around the theme of loss and the way in which the speaker – and, by extension, the reader – deals with it. Here, Bishop converts losing into an art form and explores how, by potentially mastering this skill, we may distance ourselves from the pain of loss. At eight months old, Elizabeth Bishop lost her father, her mother then succumbed to mental illness and she later lost her lover to suicide. Therefore, we may see this poem as in part autobiographical. In it, the poet presents a list of things we may lose in life, increasing in importance, until the final culmination in the loss of a loved one.

Source : poem analysis

Editor’s notes

1 an aim or purpose
2 a state of confusion or agitation
3 the person or thing before the last one

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