One Art by Elizabeth Bishop Analysis

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 beloved 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!) a disaster.

Why I chose it

She explains a major problem well in this poem. We have so many losses in life and we have to learn how to forget some of them otherwise life will overwhelm us. Only if we do this, we will learn how to deal with the big losses in life and the pain that comes with them.

Elizabeth Bishop is trying to teach this important lesson to the reader and she does this by creating a poem with an interesting structure. She increases the amount that is lost after each stanza so the reader can understand how forgetting small losses can help them get over bigger losses.

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She uses a rhyme scheme of ABA in each of her 3 line stanzas and each middle line of the stanzas rhyme with each other middle line of the other stanzas e.g went, continent, intent. With this, the poem flows nicely which helps the reader understand it.

Also I was curious on the poem because of the title. After reading it I questioned how loss can be named an art. Bishop explains this clearly in her poem.


Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, ‘One Art’, is a poem overflowing with irony which uses the structure and expressions to evoke the emotion of loss which Bishop is trying to convey to the reader. She seems to have lost many things in her life and has written this poem for the sole purpose to reassure the reader that if they find control within themselves, they are able to accept the many losses that are in their lives. Loss is something that cannot be mastered, emotion is always attached to loss. But Bishop is trying to tell the reader that with each loss, you endure it more and will ultimately learn to control the feeling, with less pain.

The speaker in this poem seems to be Bishop dealing with her inner emotions of loss, trying to ‘master’ loss so she does not have to deal with the painful emotions afterwards. This is ironic at the very concept of mastering loss, as loss is not a feeling that can be mastered. The structure of the poem is a villanelle as there are five stanzas of three lines followed by a stanza of four lines. Bishop seems to have utilised this structure to increase the reader’s attention and respect for loss as each stanza progresses.

The tone of this poem is recognized by the reader from reading the first line. The poem deals with loss which is associated with death. A poem dealing with this theme will most certainly have a negative tone, and One Art is no exception. The tone changes with each stanza, gaining in sadness as the poem continues. This is because the value of what is lost increases within each stanza. This tone helps the reader emphasise on the value of loss.

Bishop uses repetition often and refrains the line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” which is done to stress on the importance of the title. Also the reader’s sense of the subject is gained by each repetition as the theme of the poem is emphasised after each stanza. Each refrain builds up stronger amounts of loss. The second stanza is based on the loss of “door keys” or wasting time. The poet personifies these lost objects, saying that they “seem filled with the intent to be lost.” This is showing that these objects want to be lost and by giving inanimate objects feelings, it conveys that these objects are not of great importance. These are basically simple losses that one can learn to forget, but as the poem progresses, the amount that is lost builds up, including personal things with much more importance. This point can be proven in the third stanza, where she says “Then practice losing farther, losing faster:” This is the point in the poem, where she begins to name things that can be lost with much greater importance.

Following the third stanza, the next one involves things of personal importance to a person. “my mother’s watch…three beloved houses.” These things are more personal as a home is one which symbolises love and protection, which is a contrast to the insignificant loss of keys. In the fifth stanza, she describes the loss of things with huge importance, “two rivers, a continent”. Bishop continues the patter of possessions increasing in importance, by describing things which affect thousands of people. She seems to have reached things of the highest importance but finally in the last stanza, it all leads up to the most painful loss, the loss of a lover. After the fifth stanza, she uses a dash to start the last stanza.

This is done to show that she is finished describing the loss of material objects, and is moving on to the loss of something with the most importance. “It’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster”. This entire stanza flows together due to the quicker pace and full use of enjambment throughout the entire stanza. The reader was use to the punctuation increasing and pace slowing down each stanza from the first to the fifth, so this increased the impact of pace on the last stanza, making it more powerful. Parenthesis was effectively used to show how hard and painful it was for the writer to write down her emotions into words, “(Write it!)”.

Bishop is trying to teach the reader to endure the many small losses, in order to feel less pain in the loss of something with much importance. By breaking away from describing the loss of an inanimate material objects towards a living person, she amplifies the feeling of loss which conveys the message of the poem clearly to the reader.

With each stanza, we further understand the emotions which Bishop is trying to convey to us. She uses the title to imply how dealing with a loss is an art in its own accord. An art is something of beauty that requires massive amounts of effort to accomplish.

The use of punctuation is another distinct feature of the structure of this poem, with each stanza, the amount of punctuation increases up until the fifth stanza. Bishop increases the value of what was being lost, along with this, the punctuation increases as well. This was done to slow down the pace of the poem so that the reader understands the importance of each possession. When describing each thing that was being lost in the fourth, “two cities, lovely ones….two rivers, a continent.” Along with the commas, caesura was used as well in the first line to slow down the pace. By forcing the reader to stop in the middle of the line, it takes them by surprise as it was sudden, not done in the poem before. This stanza contrasts with the quicker pace of the first stanza as there was only one semi-colon and comma used. This is clear evidence of the punctuation used by Bishop which greatly emphasises what Bishop was trying to achieve with this poem.

This poem was written to show the readers the comparison of loss between different things. This poem may seem simple, but is very deep mainly through the way the poet utilised the structure and the richness in irony. This can be seen by how she refrains the use of “loss isn’t hard to master”. This changes in the last line to “loss isn’t too hard to master” This might show how it is getting harder for the poet to overcome the loss of a loved one. Bishop proves that the loss of trivial things and mastering this loss, will not be able to prepare you for the loss of something beloved by you, which further increases the ironic nature of the poem. In the end she could be all alone, hence the title “One Art”. She believed that if she could detach herself from pain and forget these feelings, she can begin a new life and grow, but realises that it is too hard for her.

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One Art by Elizabeth Bishop Analysis. (2017, Sep 21). Retrieved from

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop Analysis
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