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.

“One Art” from THE COMPLETE POEMS 1927–1979 by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.

Dive in: 
  1. “One Art” is written in a traditional poetic form called a villanelle. Among other features, a villanelle uses two lines that repeat in a particular pattern. What are the two repeated lines in “One Art”?
  2. At the end of each line of a villanelle, the poet uses one of only two rhyme sounds. Make two lists, one for each rhyme sound in “One Art.” What tones, qualities, and meanings do you notice about these lists?
  3. Villanelles often work with the tension between the poet’s and reader’s desire for narrative and the way the repetition thwarts that narrative. What story do you think Bishop is trying to tell in “One Art”?
  4. In the last line, Bishop includes a command “(Write it!)”. Given the formal inevitability of the final line, why do you think she included this command and how might it relate to the title?
  5. The suspense of “One Art” is not where the poem will end (we know that by line three), but how Bishop navigates the demands of the form, how she makes each repetition and rhyme both surprising and inevitable. How could you convey that suspense in your recitation?
  6. Try writing your own villanelle (see the link below for further details). To begin, generate two lists of rhyme words. Pick a rhyming sound with lots of possibilities, but also look for opportunities to be inventive as Bishop, especially in line 10 (“last, or”). Consider your lists of rhyme words for what they suggest about a possible theme. Poems with formal constraints such as repetition are opportunities to exercise your creativity: how can you re-imagine each repetition in the context of its stanza?

Useful Links

 

How a villanelle works https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/villanelle-poetic-form

 

Read a range of interpretations of “One Art”: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/bishop/oneart.htm