“One Art” By Elizabeth Bishop: An Interpretation

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

Although many of us are able to speak frankly about death, we still have a lot to learn about dealing wisely with its aftermath: grief, the natural reaction to loss of a loved one. Relatively few of us know what to say or do that can be truly helpful to a relative, friend or acquaintance who is grieving. In fact, relatively few who have suffered a painful loss know how to be most helpful to themselves (Brody).

The poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop “contains the same feelings of loss and pain. The poem examines both the abstract and more literal senses, which range from losses of innocence and identity to the desire to regain distant people, places or things” (Clawson). In “One Art”, Elizabeth Bishop illustrates her turbulent life full of losses helped by figurative language. She uses the repetitive Villanelle from to reveal the endless losses in her life and the symbolism to gradually increase the intensity of each loss. The villanelle form follows a very specific rhyme scheme but does not have an official meter. It is said to be the classic form of repetition and persistence. Villanelles have two repeating rhymes and two refrains. In this case Bishop chose the line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” and the word disaster as the two refrains.

The claim for this poem is that the art of saying good bye or healing after a lost is something we can master, and it does not necessary need to be a disaster. “This poem, as in all villanelles, has lines that “circle around and around, refusing to go forward in any linear development. It’s both incredibly frustrating and incredibly liberating to see that the speaker will admit she’s losing things increasingly more important… but she never says why she’s writing the poem, or what the biggest loss is” (R) The formal constrains of the villanelle help the poet to keep her balance and fashion her pain into art. In “One Art”, Elizabeth Bishop uses the symbolism to show the reader the things that are lost every day and give them a second meaning, being able to compare their significance. The author points at what she has lost. She starts with the things that are lost here and there and then goes to the big issues as houses or places. From that, she brings more significant things she owned and all the objects mentioned start becoming more meaningful.

Elizabeth uses the loss of door keys and the hour badly spent as insignificant examples of how things are meant to be lost and all the times wasted on unworthy experiences. (Lose something every day. Accept the fluster/of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. ) (lines4-5). Next she symbolizes the loss of identity and family connections when she said: Then practice losing farther, losing faster:/places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. (lines7-8) She also refers to the loss of her mother´s watch as a symbol for the relationship with her mother, and uses the watch as an emotionally significant object. Elizabeth Bishop wisely chose the villanelle format with its intrinsic form and the symbolism as a literary devise to show the readers all the losses she has gone through in her life. She uses the word art referring to losses as something practice makes perfect but cannot be mastered.


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