Poem in Your Pocket Day: “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

April 14, 2011

Today is “Poem-in-Your Pocket” Day and the poem in my pocket is Elizabeth Bishop‘s villanelle “One Art.”

This is perhaps the most famous of Bishop’s poems, touching as it does on the loss of love.   It is also a poem about writing poetry, as has been asserted by a number of critics,  and about giving up control for the sake of art.  There is a kind of mastery in losing control that I think both frightened and emboldened Bishop.

In the end, the poet (and the speaker) is not in control and the poem ends (almost) in disaster, with a stroke of poetic mastery in that last line.

Here is Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”:


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.

–Elizabeth Bishop


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