One Art: 15 years!

image by jennconspiracy via Flickr CC
image by jennconspiracy via Flickr CC

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

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,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
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-last, 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.

image via NichoDesign via Flickr CC
image via NichoDesign via Flickr CC

One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop.  She worked on this poem for 15 years!!!

This fact boggles my mind.

The words and message of this poem speak to me.  I assume this is because I got a lot of practice in the “art of losing” last year.

I can’t decide if Elizabeth is urging us to hold loosely onto the things of this worlds (keys, watches, houses, cities) — to hold onto only the things that matter, though sometimes we lose those things, too.  Or if she is trying to convince herself that losing all these things, including the things she loves most, is no big deal.  Is she saying, “We enter this world alone and leave it alone?”

I prefer the view I’ve spoken about before:  It hurts because it matters.  Saying goodbye to things you love is painful, but taking the risk of loving is worth the chance of being hurt.  I’d rather have things/people who break my heart to leave behind/say goodbye to/lose than to feel alone in the world, unattached and unloved.

A few more thoughts:  I enjoy the rhymes she makes with disaster.  Faster.  Vaster.  Gesture. Fluster.  The repetition of the word disaster adds interesting structure and emphasis.  Each stanza has three lines, except the last which has four.  Hmmmm. Not sure what that means, but if she worked on this for 15 years, she must have had some intention behind it?  Don’t you think?

I’ve gathered a few more of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems.  I’ll share them in future posts.

from Writer’s Almanac Feb 8 2014:

Poet Elizabeth Bishop, was born in Worcester, Massachusetts (2-8-1911). Her father died when she was a little girl. Her mother had an emotional breakdown from grief and spent the rest of her life in various mental institutions. Elizabeth spent most of her childhood moving back and forth between her grandparents in Nova Scotia and her father’s family in Massachusetts.

She was an extremely slow writer and published only 101 poems in her lifetime. She worked on her poem “One Art” for more than 15 years, keeping it tacked up on her wall so that she could rearrange the lines again and again until she got it right. But she was an obsessive letter writer. She once wrote 40 letters in a single day. She said, “I sometimes wish that I had nothing, or little more, to do but write letters to the people who are not here.” A collection of her letters, One Art: The Letters of Elizabeth Bishop, was published in 1994.

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