Elizabeth Bishop
American Poetry, Poetry

One Art – Elizabeth Bishop’s Poem About Learning to Lose

‘So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost,’ writes Elizabeth Bishop in the first stanza of one of her most well-known poems. Having lost her father before she even knew him, her mother to mental illness at a very young age, and years later her partner to suicide, Bishop was close to loss throughout her life. In this poem, One Art, she reflects on learning how to lose, starting with small trivial things and working up to the momentous and devastating loss of a person.

 

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 (1911-1979)
From: The Complete Poems 1926-1979

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