Understanding "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop



hi i'm rebecca balcarcel let's talk about one art a poem by elizabeth bishop the first thing we notice with this poem is that it uses an intricate form it's called a villanelle which comes down to us from french folk singers and poets use it as a challenge to try to write a really in a really tough form for one thing this form requires repeated lines it also uses a lot of rhyme and a strict villanelle has a syllable count that you have to keep – but elizabeth bishop went ahead and let that go hers is a little bit loose as far as villanelles go but she does keep to the rhyme and I think you can hear it as I read it here one art the art of losing isn't hard to master so many things seemed filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster lose something every day except 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've lost two cities lovely ones and vaster some realms I owned two rivers a continent I missed 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 is not too hard to master though it may look like write it like disaster ok let's take a look at how she's put this poem together obviously she has a stir and a stir as the two repeated sounds we've got faster and disaster blasts or vaster some tricky ones their last doors a creative way to fulfill that rhyme and then we have ant meant continent intense etc so she's got that all squared away with the rhyme but notice to how she's moving progressively through the palm from insignificant things that one could lose to much more difficult things to lose and then finally ending with a person the very hardest thing in our lives that we have to lose and say goodbye to the whole palm in fact makes a claim that you may agree with or disagree with but she claims that we need to be good at losing that it is an art and this art is something we must master and in fact that it's not too hard to master now by the end we can see that she admits that maybe it is a little bit hard but the claim is that the art of losing isn't hard to master so the art of saying goodbye the art of healing after a loss this is something we can master and get good at and life is full of departures and losing so it seems like a good idea however she shows how hard it is by the time we get to the end but let's look at the very beginning first she says many things seem filled with the intent to be lost it's almost like everything wants to be lost and then she gives examples the lost door keys and an hour an hour of time that's spent badly you can't get that back but you can get over the fact that you wasted it then she mentions places and names and where you meant to travel destinations so plans and at this point she's talking to the reader and saying well you know you should practice losing farther and losing faster and these are the kinds of things you should practice losing and of course life makes us practice losing all the time so you know we're going to be doing that but then she moves to her mother's watch which is a personal memento an heirloom perhaps something that meant a lot to her to lose that object with a little harder and then three loved houses that's a little harder because you get attached to your house you invest in it you paint the walls and then all you have to move so when she says she's lost houses it means she's had to move away and say goodbye and the same thing with cities she's had to move away from rivers and even a continent and sure enough in real life the poet moved to Brazil so she had to leave behind North America and embrace South America so she knows what it means to have to leave your whole way of life behind and start in a new place but the worst thing or rather the hardest thing to lose is you and she tries to say now even losing you ah it's still not a disaster but it's difficult because look at this stanza even losing you the joking voice a gesture I love and notice how the line ends on the word gesture because it's got to rhyme but I love is on the next line that's called enjambment that means that her sentence does not end where the line ends so she says a joking voice that a gesture these are details about the loved one or the family member who has been lost and these things make it even harder to say goodbye or harder to lose this person we remember the joking voice the gesture but even then she says I shan't have lied I won't have lied it's still true that the art of losing is not too hard to master and here she uses enjambment again because she says it's evident that's the end of the line but it's not the end of the sentence it's evident the art of losing is not too hard to master she's also added a word she's not supposed to do that the villanelle form requires you repeat the line strictly but she says the art of losing not to hard to master so this is an admission on her part oh yeah it kind of is hard to master but she says no no it's not too hard really is it but this too implies that it is hard but she's convincing herself that she's going to be able to master it and at the same time that she knows that's true she's admitting that it's difficult and then the last line reveals it even more this difficulty she says though it may look like write it like disaster so write it in the parenthetical phrase is a moment where she talks to herself so she steps out of talking to the reader and turns to herself and says write that last word disaster the villanelle form requires that the last word be disaster that she complete the thought that she delivered this message and that she believed it herself that losing is something she can master she can figure out how to do this the form requires that she figure out how to do this and we might even say life requires that she figure out how to do this and this is why this form is such a good fit for the theme the form is inexorable or we could say that the form will not let her go you must finish the line the way the form requires and you must go through life dealing with loss these are the rules that you're going to lose things and you're going to have to get over that and heal somehow from it and somehow go on and when she says write it she's accepting the fact that this is hard but that it must be that she has to take her own advice and let go of the loved one the you in the poem so this is quite a clever poem the way it's put together and follows the villanelle pattern and uses the villanelle pattern to convey this theme well I hope you enjoyed looking at this poem with me it's one of my favorites by elizabeth bishop and I have a video on another one of hers called the fish so if you like this one you might go check out the fish enjoy your day

27 thoughts on “Understanding "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop

  1. That was fantastic. I've always loved that poem but didn't quite get the "write it" ending completely but now understand. I don't think most would understand the genius of this poem – thanks to your analysis I do!!

  2. Thank you to help my english's assignment. Poem is one of the most difficlt one to study in english class(((

  3. In a way, she might have possibly lost herself and is trying to convince herself, "(write it!)" that it's not a disaster.

  4. What if the "you" or" joking voice" she's referring to, is actually herself? I sometimes joke to myself lol …talk amongst yourselves lol

  5. I interpreted her losing her "mothers watch" as the time she could've spent with her mother, since her mother died when you was very young

  6. Thank you for sharing this beautiful analysis. It was delightful to watch and contemplate.

  7. This poem makes my heart hurt. It brings tears to my eyes and puts a lump in my throat every time I read it. I love it!

  8. Laudable explication of a villanelle that wears the mask of deceptive simplicity. Rebecca recites it with adroitness and sensitivity and does manage to inflect the word in parenthesis with muted emphasis. 'Write it!' in brackets is the key word that escorts you to the sanctum sanctorum of the poem. It is a self-directed imperative the execution of which shall preclude the loss of the poem .

    The Muse does not readily respond to an organized study with all the stationery laid out on the table in apple pie order. Poets under afflatus often scribble on napkins, tissue paper, scraps, or on the margin of the book or magazine in their hands. If you don't write it immediately, it's gone irretrievably. William Empson highlights the volatility of the creative act aptly in the following excerpt:

    It is the poems you have lost, the ills
    From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
    Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
    The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

    The toxic waste consists of remorse, corrosive guilt, and implacable memory. The subtext of melancholy beneath the thin upper crust of self mockery and irony is very poignant. Each of us has been there before. I recommend Helen Dunmore,s 'Malarkey'.

     You've got the voice, Rebecca.

  9. This poem is from 1976, so she had already lived in Brazil and returned to the United States at that time. So probably the realm, the lost continent she is talking about is South America. She also mentions two rivers, one of the cities she lived in Brazil was Rio de Janeiro, that means in portuguese "January River", so maybe this is also a reference. Having said that, maybe the loved one lost was Lota?

  10. non rien ne rien je ne regret rien because it's not hard to lose an art that unbeknown to me until I encounter Elizabeth Bishop on a far away Street in unearthly town become a celebration I lose I have lost
    mistake is the most reverential Guru…..
    losing is winning
    erring is learning…
    thanks.

  11. Love this poem and this video made me love it even more. Thanks!

  12. Thanks for this! Just re-watched the masterful film Flores Rares aka "Reaching for the Moon" — & have to agree with numerous critics who believe that Otto would have gotten a nomination — & should have , if this movie hadn't been marketed as a "lesbian ghetto" niche film … Yes it's soapy, but well done & aroused my & many other's interest in discovering a lot more about Bishop!

  13. wow. the "too" change was very subtle at the end but now that its pointed out its really cool.
    this is coming from a 10th grade student who really dreads english class but has to do poetry analysis, congrats this video has actually gotten me interested in this poem.

  14. Yet by "writing it," by enumerating all these losses, the poet recovers them, in a sense. Her neurotically repetitive insistence that losing isn't "a disaster" belies her professed cavalier attitude about her irrevocable past. (We could imagine Hamlet stepping in with his snide "methinks the lady doth protest too much.") But in fact the speaker hasn't lost these things, she's preserved them, right here in her poem. As Shakespeare said about his own verse: "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.") In this way the poem is a kind of elegy to everything it claims to have lost, and so like so much of lyric poetry, it aspires to that paradoxical status of being a monument to transience. The art of losing isn't hard to master, sure, ok fine; but the art of poetry, of course, IS hard to master. It's hard to WRITE IT in a way that will, like love, "bear it out even to the edge of doom." And it's hard to make it look easy, which one must as this is a necessary requirement for all great art–I mean sprezzatura: that "certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it." As the poet labors to "write it"–the poem—she is simultaneously (and covertly!) laboring over her losses in order to make both not look (and feel!) like disasters. And I love your purple sweater.

  15. Thank you for sharing these insights! I'm teaching this poem twice this semester (in two separate classes), and you brought up points about the poem's structure that I completely missed. I appreciate your videos. : )

  16. When you read a poem like that TO PEOPLE in order to deliver a lecture, it's not only an aesthetically repugnant thing, it's alllmost morally a bad thing….tell us about your day…did some old lady beat you with her umbrella? JUST PLEASE don't read someone else's great work into a webcam as if the sole reason it was written was to give you something to talk about to other incredibly lovely people

  17. Ya can't read that in a cute jaunty sweater with an off-kilter painting behind you

  18. Really helpful, thank you. (The poem still makes me a little sad though, but it's no disaster!)

  19. Hello, do you do novel analysis by chapters? If not, have you ever given any thought to that? I love your vids, thank you!

  20. Always a pleasure to see you upload another poem analysis, Rebecca. 

  21. Thanks for the analysis, Rebecca! I just read "One Art". I was wondering if you could also do an analysis of "Miriam" by Truman Capote. I would love you to explain that short story since it is a bit complex, in my opinion. Thanks in advance!

  22. Love you new hair style :3  Continue your awesome poem reviews. Have a good day!

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