Masterpiece Monday: “One Art”

Cover of "One Art: Letters"

Image via Amazon

Well, I spent a good portion of this morning desperately searching for the case to my new Skullcandy earbuds. I flipped over couch cushions, opened all my desk drawers, found popcorn kernels and a pencil, but to no avail. Finally, when I thought that I was way too young to be going senile, I checked the pockets of the coat I had worn yesterday. Victory!

I love finding poems that reflect my everyday life, and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” does just that. I don’t usually feature modern writers, but Bishop has won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for her poetry (1956 and 1970, respectively). Thus, I think this poem more than qualifies for Masterpiece Monday:

“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 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.

This poems has a casual tone, but it’s actually an adaptation of the classic villanelle (most famously seen in Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night”). The poem records all the things that the speaker has lost–objects, cities, a lover–and although it seems like it does not affect her, she still remembers that she lost them. The repetition connotes a need to remind herself that loss, even though it may not be an “art” or may actually be “hard to master,” can become easier to live with time.

Lastly, her addition of “Write it!” seems to have two meanings, one that urges her to finish her thought and another that suggests that writing down her feelings makes it easier to cope with loss. I have to agree with that second meaning, because although blogging about my temporarily lost earphone case seems silly, expressing your emotions in writing has always been so therapeutic for me.

Whether you’re mad at yourself for losing your phone for the third time this week, or you’re experiencing the death of a loved one, I hope that Bishop’s poem brings you comfort. And if you’ve got any recommendations for future Masterpiece  Mondays, I’m all ears!

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