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Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1317

Essay

My main reason for liking Elizabeth Bishop’s 1976 poem “One Art,” first published in The Complete Poems, 1927-1979, is because of its theme which centers on the “art” of losing something, whether as Bishop notes the keys to the door of your house, or a watch that once belonged to your mother. However, Bishop goes much further than simply talking about losing items like keys and a watch, for she also speaks of losing “three loved houses,” two rivers, two cities, and even an entire continent. From a personal standpoint, this poem, composed of five triads of three lines each and a final quatrain of four lines, means a great deal, due to focusing on something that every person can relate to in the form of losing (perhaps on purpose) an item that at first seems very important, but after losing it becomes “no disaster.”

Surprisingly, this poem could be considered as both a narrative poem because of its first-person perspective and as a lyrical poem because it contains a kind of plot as found in a story and Bishop’s personal feelings on a particular topic, in this case, losing something of worth or value which Bishop admits that at first she missed but later realized that losing them was not a disaster. In my personal life, I have lost many things but certainly not what Bishop mentions in her poem, being three houses, two cities, two rivers, and a continent which shows that Bishop’s poem is also autobiographical. However, in the last stanza, Bishop tells us that she also lost someone with a “joking voice” but considers the lost as not that devastating.

For myself, I can truly relate to losing someone with perhaps not a “joking voice” but someone who I thought at first was indispensable in my life. This person was someone I had grown up with as a child, so we spent a good deal of our childhood together as friends and comrades. This friendship lasted for almost twenty years and during this time, we shared everything–clothes, cars, food, and many other personal items. However, when we graduated from high school, this long-term friendship changed in ways that made being together somewhat of a chore. But several years ago, this friend moved to another state, and promised before leaving that I would receive phone calls and emails to keep me updated.

However, after this friend moved away, I never heard a word back–no phone calls, no emails, nothing. Of course, I was devastated because I felt I had lost a great friend. But now, after reading and studying Bishop’s poem, I realize that this person was not a true friend. So, as Bishop puts it, I lost something that at first meant a great deal, but then came to understand that losing this “friend” was not a disaster.

As to the poem itself, the speaker is obviously Elizabeth Bishop because she uses “I” in several of the stanzas (“I lost my mother’s watch” and “I lost two cities”) which also indicates that Bishop’s poem is autobiographical. According to the Poetry Foundation, Bishop’s poems contain glimpses of the physical world in which she lived as a young woman and are filled with “poetic serenity” or a sort of peace of mind attitude which shows through her lack of concern over losing her keys, her mother’s watch, and three houses.

The two cities that Bishop mentions in the fifth stanza could possibly be New York City where she lived for quite a few years and Key West, Florida, where Bishop wrote numerous poems for her Pulitzer Prize winning collection North and South. Also, the continent mentioned in the same stanza might be South America because Bishop lived for fourteen years in Brazil. She also lived here with her companion Lota de Macedo Soares who might be the person with the “joking voice” as found in the last stanza (“Elizabeth Bishop”). Personally, I also lost a city, the city where I was born and where I grew up with the “friend” who moved away to another state and literally abandoned me. Because of distance, I have never returned to the city where I was born; thus, I could say that I lost it, much like Bishop’s “two cities” which she declares were “lovely ones.”

Although “One Art” is both a narrative poem and a lyrical poem, it is also a kind of ode, due to Bishop informing the reader on how she feels about a specific topic or subject, in this case, the “art of losing.” For example, Bishop states several times that she considers the “art of losing” as not being too difficult to master and that a person should actually practice the “art of losing.”

This poem also utilizes the poetic technique known as alliteration or the repetition of consonant sounds, such as in the third line of the first stanza (“to be lost that their loss is no disaster”) and the first and seconds lines of the second stanza (“Accept the fluster/ of lost door keys, the hour badly spent”) with the repetition of the letter “l.” Bishop also repeats the letter “v” in the first and second lines of the last stanza (“Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture/I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident”).

In addition, Bishop utilizes several instances of imagery which are meant to appeal to the senses through the use of certain words and phrases. For instance, in the second stanza, Bishop declares to the reader that they must “accept the fluster” that comes along with losing something. This refers to a sense of panic that one might experience when something ends up lost or cannot be found occupying its usual place, such as a set of car keys kept in a bowl on a kitchen counter. Bishop also mentions that an hour “badly spent” is also lost and can never be recovered.

For myself, I have often panicked when something turns up lost, such as losing a credit card or a piece of jewelry. In have also spent many hours “badly,” meaning that I have wasted time doing something that at the time seemed important. Of course, like Bishop tells us, losing things like a credit card or a ring will not bring about disaster because life goes on and lost items can always be replaced.

The most curious line from this poem and one that truly appeals to my sense of curiosity occurs in the second and third lines of the first stanza–“so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” Here, Bishop is declaring that losing certain things is done intentionally; therefore, when a certain item is intentionally lost, it is not a disaster but perhaps a sort of release from having the responsibility for its safekeeping. In my own life, I recall that my mother gave me a sweater when I was a child that I did not like at all. So, I intentionally lost it by leaving it behind at a birthday party.

After reading “One Art,” I came to ask myself why Bishop refers to losing as an “art.” If this “art” is easy to master, then why call it an “art” in the first place? As far as I know, an art or artform, such as playing a musical instrument or writing superb poetry, takes years to master through intense practice and great devotion, and of course, a lot of talent. Perhaps Bishop is attempting to say that the “art” of losing something can be mastered by anyone with enough “practice” and intention. Either way, it is clear that losing something will not result in disaster because it can always be replaced. But perhaps Bishop is allegorically referring to losing one’s mind is easy to master since her mother ended up in an insane asylum when Elizabeth was a very young child.

Bibliography

“Elizabeth Bishop, 1911-1979.” 2011. The Poetry Foundation. Web. 10 March 2012

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