The poem is regular, symmetrical, and falls into stanzas. The first five stanzas have three lines and the last stanza contains four lines. A longer peruse of “One Art” will help the reader identify the villanelle form. The first line of the poem is repeated in the 2nd, 4th and 6th stanzas, while the last word of the first stanza (3rd line) is repeated in the 3rd, 5th, and 6th stanzas.
The poem appears to have the powerful music effect that is usually associated with a villanelle. The poem hints at being autobiographical after reading about Elizabeth Bishop’s life in the “Lives of the Poets” section of the text- Literature an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. The personal voice also hints at the poem being autobiographical. Further analysis of the poem and Bishop’s life leads to the discovery of confessional poetry.
Researching The Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia tells us that Elizabeth Bishop’s works will usually “highlight the sense of strangeness that can underlay ordinary events”(“Elizabeth Bishop”). The text (Literature an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama) makes reference to Bishop’s use of metaphor. Elizabeth Bishop refers to losing as an art. The American Heritage Talking Dictionary defines art as a skill that is practiced (“art”). “One Art” makes specific reference to practicing losing (line 7). Loss is defined as a condition of being deprived or bereaved of something or someone (“loss”).
Loss is not something done intentionally (such as the word “practice” might suggest) but it is something that is inherent to humans. Perhaps Bishop uses the metaphor of “loss being an art” to confess the different types of loss in her life. In the first six lines, the poem refers to losing small things. The purpose of some small items is to be lost. With the second and third lines: “so many things seem filled with the intent/ to be lost”(lines 2/3), the reader can quickly make a mental note of small items that have been lost.
For example, the reader could have lost marbles or doll clothes as a child. Line four makes the simple statement: “Lose something everyday. ” It is not hard to lose or misplace something, which line six: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master. ” suggests.
People misplace or lose possessions, such as keys, all the time. “Accept the fluster/of lost door keys, the hour badly spent”(lines 5/6) tells the reader to accept small losses, such as keys, and the time spent looking for them. After all, losing things is not hard to do (line 6). These losses are small and happen all the time (every day-line 4). Perhaps, bishop had trouble minding the small articles in her life. In the third stanza, a racing mind is pictured in line 7(losing farther, losing faster).
A person’s experiences, memories, and ambitions are depicted in lines 8/9. Forgetting friends, memories and travel plans is not a problem (line 9). As Bishop moved from place to place, forgetting about or losing the previous places must have become commonplace (practice-line 7). As she got older or moved onward, she experienced different types of loss. Another type of loss is shown in the fourth stanza.
Bishop confesses about sentimental loss in this stanza. The loss of her “mother’s watch” (line 10) and homes she lived in-“And look! My last, or/next-to-last, of three loved houses went”(lines 10/11). But again, these losses are easy (line 12). Bishop continues this type of loss into the fifth stanza. The fifth stanza contains references to the different places that Bishop has lived.
She moved from different places or “two cities”(line 13)-Worcester as a child and Key West as an adult (1166). She confesses to missing (line 15) these places as well as South America (“a continent”-line 14). Now Bishop moves on to another type of loss. The loss in the last stanza is that of a loved one.
In the final stanza, there is the symbolic reference of a person to a “joking voice”(line 16). It is ironic that the author would downplay a person to a voice. The “joking voice is someone that she felt strongly about or for: “a gesture/I love”(lines 16/17). Perhaps, downplaying is Bishop’s way of “mastering the loss” or masking the hurt.
Losing is hard to get over, especially when the loss is a loved one. In the last two lines, losing is not hard to do (or master) even if the loss looks like a disaster. The poem ends with the word: “disaster”. “Disaster” brings to mind great loss or tragedy; yet, none of the losses that Bishop confesses to are really major losses. Loss as an art and disaster are echoed through the six stanzas of “One Art”. How is the art of loss mastered? Bishop answers this question with two words “(Write it!)” (Line 19).
Perhaps Bishop is telling the reader how to master the art of loss. Writing something down is a great way to remember things. People keep organizers with notes and dates every day. So maybe losing something just appears to be a disaster (line 19). As long as a memory, experience or place is written down the art of loss can be mastered.