One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

“One Art” is a well-known poem written by American poet Elizabeth Bishop that was first published in The New Yorker in 1976. Later that year, Bishop published the poem in Geography III, alongside other pieces such as “In the Waiting Room” and “The Moose.”

This poem is written in the villanelle style. It is made up of “Five three-lined stanzas or tercets are followed by a closing quatrain. The first and third lines of the first tercets appear as a refrain in the subsequent stanzas and form a closing couplet “.. Several English poets, including Oscar Wilde, W. E. Henley, and W. H. Auden, have experimented with it. The villanelle form is employed to try to regulate intense feelings. The villanelle form’s nineteen lines are used as an attempt to regulate intense feelings.

Text of the Poem

One Art Poem summary

Summary of One Art

One Art is a famous poem by Elizabeth Bishop. In this poem, Bishop claims that mastering the art of losing is easy. We can only accept significant losses if we become accustomed to losing trivialities such as a key or time. We become accustomed to the art of loss over time. The poet moves on to more intimate matters, such as the loss of a mother’s watch, homes, and loved ones. The final stanza reveals the nature of the speaker’s grief. It is the death of a close relative. Although it appears to be a calamity, the speaker determines that it is not.

The poem apparently refers to the poet’s own life. Bishop’s critics and readers agree that this poem covers the loss of goods, places, and people she has suffered throughout her life and how she has dealt with them. The poem begins with the phrase “The art of losing is not difficult to master,” which is repeated four times in the poem, but the final line has a variant “the art of losing is not too difficult to master,” as if the speaker is attempting to regulate herself. The poetic persona attempts to turn a loss into an art form that can be mastered: ” “Lose something every day. Accept the fluster/of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. […] Then practice losing farther, losing farther…”. The title “One Art” expresses the poet’s belief that one should become accustomed to dealing with loss.

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The poem finishes by addressing someone whose identity is not revealed: “Even if I lost you, I shan’t have lied.” Many opponents believe she is speaking to her friend Lota de MacedSoares. The preceding sentences about lost houses, cities, two rivers, and a continent all pertain to Bishop’s time in Brazil and its tragic end.

Without using a self-pitying tone, Bishop’s use of the villanelle form and strong word choice combine to convey the speaker’s secret emotions over a lost love. The poem depicts an ongoing strive for mastery that will never be achieved. One can try to conquer loss, but acknowledging one’s powerlessness may be a more effective way to control loss.

“One Art” Analysis

Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” reveals her struggle with handling the problem of loss. Bishop uses a villanelle to improve the meaning of her work by emphasising the importance of structure and word choice. Bishop crescendos each stanza to set the tone for the dramatic finale, and he uses emotive words throughout the poem to emphasise the last stanza’s transition from carelessness to seriousness.

Elizabeth Bishop’s usage of the villanelle form, a type of love poem, is appropriate for her poem about lost love. The first five tercets (three lines stanzas) start with small objects (keys) and progress to larger objects (continents). The poem’s final stanza is a quatrain (four-line stanza) that includes the poem’s occasion and attitude adjustment. The initial line of the poem, “the skill of losing isn’t hard to master,” appears several times throughout the book to reiterate the speaker’s viewpoint on loss mastery. The poem’s meaning is revealed by the repeat of the third line’s concluding word “disaster.”

Throughout the poem, Bishop’s word choice emphasises the importance of loss and love. Because the first and third lines of each stanza repeat inside the text, the middle lines of each stanza stay distinct. Each middle line’s endings contain the same rhyme pattern, and when taken together, they spell out an eventual loss: “intent”/ “spent”/ “meant”/ and “went.” The speaker seems impersonal at first, and he makes no mention of any significant thing that has been lost.  The speaker in the second stanza is explaining how to master the art of loss and encouraging the readers to practise and make it a habit: “Lose something every day (line 4).” “Lost door keys, the hour badly spent (line 5)” become materialistic entities and wasted time. A dynamic list of unmanageable losses appears in the third stanza.

Bishop emphasises progress in time, ultimately indicating loss, by using the phrase “losing farther, losing quicker (line 7).” The simple transition from the third to the fourth stanza allows the poem to take on a more intimate tone with the addition of the word “I.” The “mother’s watch” is chosen by Bishop to represent time and the connection between generations. The missing watch brings a sense of impending loss to life. The speaker also lists her losses in order: “my last” and “next-to-last.” Stanza five is the concluding tercet, and it contains materialistic goods that the speaker has misplaced. The loss of expansive and lavishing goods like “cities”/”realms,” “rivers,” and “continents” pales in comparison to the sentiments the speaker experiences in stanza six as a result of the loss of love.

The final stanza depicts a shift in attitude from invincibility to somberness. Bishop changed the poem into a personal work by introducing “you,” breaking away from the pattern of inanimate items and incorporating a living human. Despite the fact that the tone is more intimate, the details are still hazy. The caesura created by the parenthesis around “(the joking voice, a gesture/ I love)” allows the reader to take a breather before confronting the ambiguity of the final lines. In line eighteen, the first line refrain is changed by the addition of the word “too,” which appears to contradict the original declaration that loss “isn’t hard to master.” The speaker’s cautious admission of the final word, “disaster,” is postponed in the closing line by the repetition of “likes.” The parenthetical sentence “(Write it)” serves as a self-prompt, conveying the energy required to notice the word “disaster.” The speaker acknowledges that they have not yet perfected the art of loss by expressing it in writing.

Bishop’s use of the villanelle form and strong word choice collectively work together to illustrate the speaker’s private sorrows over a lost love without including a self-pitied tone. The poem reveals a struggle for mastery
that will never be attained. One does attempt to master loss but the recognition of powerlessness may be a more efficient method to tame loss.

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Questions And Answers of One Art

Q. What is the message or theme of One Art?

Answer: Losing, acceptance, and sadness are the major themes found in the poem incorporated with powerful language and other literary elements. The poet’s message includes losing something, or someone does not bring disaster. The poet in the poem asserts that, over time, we can recover from the loss of an object or even the loss of a loved one. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” the poet says; practice by losing small objects, then build up to the loss of homeland, home, and loved ones.

Q. What is the mood of the poem One Art?

Answer: The poem begins with a lighthearted and instructive tone, giving the impression that losing things really is not hard to master. The tone progressively changes as the poem continues, becoming more personal to the speaker and begins to lose this lighthearted feel around stanza 4.

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