An analysis of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”

The poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop uses simple and elegant verse as a poetic device to help it achieve its purpose and to convey its theme. Bishop’s poem is about the way in which people feel about losing things within their lives and how this can affect them. Bishop’s argument, through her poem, is that in order for people to learn the art of losing, they must practice on smaller things and eventually losing other things will not be so hard on them. The poetic element that she uses with such success is the language choice she uses, and in particular the rhythm of the poem, which makes it easy to read.

The theme of the poem, the idea of mastering the art of losing, is expressed through the use of simple language, the author’s use of her own personal losses to bring the theme to the forefront, and enhanced by the rhythm of the poem’s words. Bishop’s poem is able to take an idea, that of loss, and successfully relay its theme and achieve its purpose by directing it toward a wide audience of women who must deal with loss. Her audience is an important influence in how Bishop wrote the poem.

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop is a poem that does not use symbolism and strange descriptions to create the theme of the piece, and the result is a poem that deals with loss: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master,/ so many things seem filled with their intent,/to be lost that their loss is no disaster” (Bishop). Bishop’s use of language is unique in that it is modern and almost as if she is speaking it and her use of proper English and grammar comes across as well. The result of this is that the poem appears to be sound advice from a woman who has had many life experiences and can be trusted to share her wisdom with the rest of the world. She writes from her own experiences with lines like, “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” (Bishop).

She is able to give the reader a sense of how much loss she has endured and by doing so, she is actually making it more realistic to the reader to believe the theme of her poem. Bishop is able to use simple words that almost anyone can understand to bring to light her ideas about loss. She does not use any fancy punctuation or grammar, nor does she try to hide the meaning within metaphors and similes. Bishop clearly writes a poem in her own voice so that she can get her point across to others like her, most especially women who have dealt with similar loss.

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The rhythm of the poem is a particular element of the poem that becomes especially important in a short poem of this nature because it helps the flow of the words. Each of the verses contains a rhythm to it, either by using words that rhyme at the end of every other line or simply choosing words that make up the stressed and unstressed syllables of the iambic meter (Sound and Rhythm). In the fifth verse, Bishop writes,”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” (Bishop). The writer uses the words vaster and disaster to create a rhythm that helps the poem flow, and she does the same with other word choices throughout the poem: master and disaster, fluster and master, last, or and master. This element is even more important to the success of the poem when it is read aloud by the reader because the way we speak translates into how effective the iambic meter and the flow of the poem truly is.

Bishop’s poem gains it real effectiveness by being simply realistic. The author is a woman who uses her own experiences to reach out to her audience and bring them a poem with a theme that is important to many people, especially women. When she talks about losing a gold watch or forgetting names she is hitting on an important thing to many women: the idea of losing something that is sentimental to them, like their mother’s watch, or getting older and forgetting things or having problems with their memory. It’s important to remember that the writer’s own experiences and ideas become a part of the poem and that helps enhance its believability to the audience. She even opens herself up in the final verse, talking about losing someone she loves and losing the “joking voice, the gesture I love!” (Bishop).

She opens herself up to the audience in a way that is raw and real, bringing to light issues about loss that all of us will at one time experience or endure, but in particular her intended audience becomes important to the effectiveness of the poem. The poetic device she uses, that of the simple language, becomes that which is most important in making the poem work for the audience. Anytime a poet is able to write a poem in a way that makes it sound, if spoken aloud, as if it is someone speaking to you and giving you advice, it is obvious that the writer meant it to come across in such a way. It makes it easy for the reader to understand what the whole point of poetry is really, and that is the theme it is trying to convey and the purpose with which it was written.

The theme of this poem is so important to understanding why the author uses the device that she does because throughout the poem, the simplicity that Bishop uses in her poetry helps to transcend the generational gap between the author and the reader. Bishop was an older lady with many life experiences to draw from when she wrote much of her poetry and for this reason, she is able to get away without using fancy words or poetic devices that do not make sense. She writes simply, in short words, in a type of dialogue that seems as if she is simply speaking it.

The beauty of the poetry is that it like she is able to create her theme by sculpting it with terms and words that everyone can understand readily. Her point of view is that something as complex and yet simple as loss can be an art form and that by viewing it as such, we do not simply run away from loss when we experience it, we have to learn to embrace it and further learn from it so that in our lives we can cope with it with dignity as time goes by. Even the death of a loved one can be something that can be endured with grace and dignity.

So why is it an art form to learn to deal with loss? Perhaps in the mind of Bishop it is something that needs to be embraced as a part of life just as one would embrace their gift at writing or any other type of art. When people are enduring pain and are going through problems in their lives, they must be able to move forward. This is Bishop’s theme. She is trying to teach us to look at loss in a completely different way than we had previously been looking at this type of pain. As a part of life it is something that we need to understand and it would only benefit us to learn how to understand it. Bishop’s beautiful verse and her use of poetic devices translate her own ideas into the purpose of the poem. In the end, she succeeds in using the poetic device of language and iambic meter to create a flowing style of poetry that is simple and yet elegant.

Elizabeth Bishop uses the simple language and iambic meter to create a poem that easily achieves its purpose of helping enlighten the readers about how loss can affect someone and how it is an art to be able to deal with loss. By using the poetic devices she does, Bishop is able to create an atmosphere in the poem that lets it flow nicely and helps the poem to put across its theme. Without the style of writing that Bishop uses the poem would not be able to achieve its important purpose and the author would fail in her attempt to put across the moral that she wishes her audience to learn from her own experiences and what she has learned from them. “One Art” is a simple poem that achieves its purpose without the aid of intricate and complex poetic devices, and in so doing is perfectly targeted to her audience and accomplishes her goal.

                                                            Works Cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. “One Art.” Poetry Translation Project. 26 Jan. 2007

<http://www.bryantmcgill.com/World_Poetry/~E/Elizabeth_Bishop/Elizabeth_Bishop_One_Art.html>.

“Sound and Rhythm.” English Literature. Fu Jen University. 26 Jan. 2007

<http://www.eng.fju.edu.tw/English_Literature/terms/sound.htm>.

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