Monday, March 22, 2010

One Art

I found “One Art” to be an immensely sad poem. Elizabeth Bishop begins the poem by saying “The art of losing isn’t hard to master”. I’m sure this first line is something we can all agree with. I know I have lost many times in life whether it’s a material object, a basketball game, or something bigger like friends or loved ones.

Bishop starts with small things that don’t seem to have a huge impact if lost such as door keys. They’re frustrating to lose, but life will go on. She moves on to bigger things as the stanzas progress. Next is “places and names”-- A little bigger than a set of keys, but still not a disaster if you lose them. “Houses”, “cities”, “a continent”—she has lost these things by moving. Many people find it sad to leave the house they grew up in or make a big move to a different place, but with time they learn that it isn’t such a big deal. Then finally, Bishop hits us with the big one—a person. She loses someone close to her, yet is trying to convince us (as well as herself) that although it may look like a disaster at the time, life will go on. We can see Bishop clearly has a hard time accepting the loss when she writes “(Write it!)”. She is forcing herself to accept the loss and move on. She uses the first 5 stanzas to build up to this loss, to try and belittle the feelings of great loss.

I just found it depressing that Bishop deals with the pain of a loss by comparing it to other less significant losses in her life. I guess everyone deals with pain differently… a lot like the Bundren family.


  1. Alex, I definitely agree with your interpretation of the poem. Although you found it to be overall depressing, I found it quite beautiful. Yes, losing objects and places and people is sad, but it is just a fact of life. While we lose the physical things themselves, it is difficult to lose the memories (unless nature hates you of course). Either way, we can't fret for too long over the things we lose and I feel like that is what Bishop is trying to get across most.

  2. I interpreted things a bit differently. For me Bishop's point wasn't that we lose so many things that we must get used to it. I saw it more as her struggling with the fact that although she has lost so many things in her life there is one thing that she can't just accept like the rest. I think the question which follows is what makes something difficult to lose? It's as if there is a spectrum from losing keys to losing a loved one and you aren't sure when the loss becomes a disaster. I also think Bishop is struggling with an interesting paradox: although loss is inevitable she doesn't expect it... and maybe that's the real disaster.

  3. For some reason, I read these poems with an image of Bishop being a controlled, stoic kind of person. Then with One Art, it seemed to build up to a great loss of a person, and then she even said it wasn't a disaster. I'm not sure how to interpret it, since there's an ambiguous kind of irony in the poem.

    She advocates control of her emotions, moving on with life, but it seems like a facade and desperate attempt of reassurance. Saying that "losing isn't hard to master" is like clinging onto the notion that one can control loss, that one has authority over events they actually can't control. There's this whole tension and anxiety conflict underlying the seemingly stoic tone.

    It's late, and I'm rambling. Overall, I really like Bishop from what I've read. I didn't find this poem so much sad, as poignant and speaking volumes about life.

  4. Something else we might consider, as we move into Plath, is the way that Bishop presents us with situations, sometimes mundane, that speak volumes about existence. We saw this to a degree today in class. Plath, in many ways, takes a similar stance about the enormity of the world around us.