Introduction to the Poet: Elizabeth Bishop was recognized as one of the most important America poets in the twentieth century soon after her death in 1979. Born in 1911, she had an unfortunate childhood after her father died and her mother suffered from a nervous breakdown a few years later. Bishop was then taken in by her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia and later, by her paternal grandparents in Massachusetts where she went for elite schooling and graduated from Vassar College. Bishop was one analytical poet who chose to write her pieces over long periods of time, writing a total of 101 poems during her lifetime, most of them about her own experiences.
Introduction to the Poem: “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop is a part-autobiographical poem where she emphasizes on the importance of possessions and memories. The whole poem is a repetitive collection of verses about the ‘art of losing’. Elizabeth Bishop not only mentions the things she has misplaced or lost, she also speaks about her experiences that have now gone away and will never come back. Dealing with having and then not having these experiences is the ‘art of losing’.
Setting of the Poem: The poem is a mid-20th century piece written about the poet’s experiences and the things she possessed that she now doesn’t. It is set in 20th century US where the poet studied and began writing in. The poem is an introspective one and one can imagine the poet at home reminiscing the places she has been to and the people she has met. Almost like a ‘penseive’ (refer to the Harry Potter series), this poem is a reminder to her, of all the things she has lost. Thus the real setting of the poem is the poet’s mental state while she tries to believe the pain of loss is manageable but is nevertheless grieving.
Poetic Devices in One Art Poem
The poem is a loop of six stanzas about dealing with the phenomenon of losing elements in life.
Symbolism – “lost door keys, watch” – losing time, “watch” – reflects her relationship with her mother as she loses her mother’s watch, “you” – lover
Irony – “even losing you” – reduces the importance of loss of partner
Repetition – “the art of losing isn’t hard to master” – convincing herself that losing things is a part of life and it shall eventually be okay
Personification – “so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost” – personified materials to justify the phenomenon of loss
Hyperbole – “Two cities…/some realms I owned” – comparing locations to possessions and large losses in life
Alliteration – “losing farther, losing faster”
Imagery – “the joking voice, gesture I love”
Metaphor – “even losing you”, “joking voice”, “gesture I love” – the inner happiness of the poet
The rhyme scheme in the poem goes “abaab” throughout the first five stanzas of three lines each and the sixth stanza of four lines.
One Art Poem Summary by Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is a repetitive nostalgic poem of nineteen lines describing the “art of losing”. In this poem, Elizabeth tries to beautify the phenomenon of loss by adapting that perception in the experiences she has had throughout her life, pertaining to both materials and relations.
The poem begins with establishing that the art of losing is not hard to master. The poet feels things intent to be lost and that this decreases the effect of their loss. Further, the poet begins to point at what all she has lost, almost every day. She mentions her lost house keys, and all the times she has wasted on unworthy experiences.
In the next stanza, the poet focuses on losing memory. Memories of places travelled and to be travelled, and names meant to be remembered. She says the loss of these things shall not affect the person adversely. She once lost her mother’s watch, and has lost access to three of her houses. She has dealt with moving on from the loss of the two cities she has lived in, past rivers and continents.
Even losing a loved one, says the poet, that affected her more than the others did, was copable to a large extent and thus the poet concludes that losing might seem very hard to get over with, but it’sno such disaster and one should move on from it.
One Art Poem Analysis by Elizabeth Bishop
The poem “One Art” is an autobiographical view of the poet’s life explained via the many things and experiences she has lost during her life. Elizabeth Bishop mentions things like her mother’s watch and her house keys and her moments and places she has lost, past countries and continents.
Elizabeth Bishop had a tumultuous life dealing with the loss of her parents and frequently moving places which reflects in the pen gradually. Interestingly, the poem moves from less important to more important losses in the verses. Initially, the poet justifies dealing with loss being easy as she mentions losing her house keys, later moving on to more personal materials like her mother’s watch. Further on, she points out losing the places she has travelled and the people she has met. These places then escalate to homely ones she has lived in and moved to and from. Lastly, the poet mentions the people she has lost and how she shall always remember them by their characteristic qualities.
About losing these, the poet’s “art of losing” is her creative venture to rather motivate herself to get over these losses. They are visibly substantial enough to unnerve the poet in her lifestyle. She demeans the art of losing to only mere experiences to help her move on with her life. The poet does treasure memories of all these possessions she once had, and remembers them fondly. She glorifies the art of losing in life and says that it isn’t that hard to master. This belief is a reflection of the harsh experiences she has gone through and how she has managed to overcome them, or ‘master’ the art of losing.
Conclusion: The poem “One Art is a reminiscent poem which serves as a lesson to cope with the various losses we face in life, no matter how small or big. It deals with both general and personal material and non-material possessions. The poet establishes the art of losing that isn’t hard to master, and that all losses are negative only if you do not deal with them.
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