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In “One Art”, Elizabeth Bishop uses repetition, symbolism, and imagery to relate the act of losing to the reader. The poet impress upon the reader that things are intended to be lost and as such the pain of loss should be diminished by the frequency in which we experience loss.
In the poem, Elizabeth Bishop writes using the villanelle format. A villanelle is a poem that consists of nineteen lines beginning with four, three lines stanzas and a final stanza with four lines.
There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes. In this poem, the first refrain is “master”, followed by the second line which houses the rhyme “intent,” then finally the third line which has the second refrain, “disaster.” The refrains “master” and “disaster” are alternately repeated throughout the poem until the last stanza, which has both refrains. Bishop describes the loss of time, keys, memories, and even a person. By adopting her perception of loss, the author attempts to decrease the effect loss has on her.
The words in the poem that appear to have the most meaning are “lose”, “disaster”, and “master”. In context, these words add to the authors’ overall message and tone; providing the reader with a background setting for the imagery she portrays.
Bishop begins her poem by stating, “Lose something every day. Accept the fluster…” (2:1), to consciously try and lose something every day, speaks to the author’s blasé outlook on the lost items, most likely because the objects she references as being lost are easily replaced.
“Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.” (2:1-2) this stanza describes something every reader can relate to losing at some point in their life, door keys, and time. This symbolism of loss makes losing seem like an act that we experience on a daily basis, and is suggestive that the loss of time and keys is for no reason other than fate. It is apparent that at this point the loss of one’s mind is the primary focus. As the poem progresses the significance of the author’s misplaced or forgotten items grow in prominence. Perhaps the author is suggesting that our lives are compacted and therefore easily lost. In the fourth stanza, the speaker’s view toward loss shifts and becomes something with significantly more meaning than that of keys, the image presented to the reader is now the loss of an irreplaceable family heirloom., more specifically the loss of the author’s mother’s watch. The author writes, “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.” (4:1-3) The loss of her mother’s watch is possibly symbolic of the loss of time with loved ones, particularly her mother. The loss of three houses is also symbolic because the author doesn’t refer to the places she lived as homes, but rather “loved houses’.
The poem’s imagery is expressed through the authors’ final stanza. Bishop finally describes the person she has lost,” —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 a disaster (6:1-4). The imagery is presented through our senses of sound, and sight. The long dash the author uses at the start of her final stanza begins to set the stage for the shift in emotion she is about to portray. The author writes, “the joking voice” this statement almost allows us to hear the voice of the loved one she has lost. Then she writes, “…a gesture I love…” allows the reader to visualize a conversation between her and her loved one. Finally, the reader is presented with the ultimate image and quite possibly the most important image the poet portrays, the image of touch. The poet says “(Write it!)”, you can immediately in vision the pain she has gone through. You can imagine her writing the poem and forcing herself to believe that the loss of her love is no disaster. This is her final testament that losing something is not a disaster.
Amidst the undisturbed tenor and the obsessive repetition of the poem, there is something disconcerting about Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art”. The author may assert that loss isn’t ‘a a disaster’, but the overall effect of the poem suggests otherwise. Elizabeth Bishop stresses that “so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster” (1:2) and throughout the poem she relies on this theory, imploring the reader that loss, no matter how great is a part of life and as such not a disaster.
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