Monday, 30 April 2012

Elizabeth Bishop's 'One Art': "The Art of Losing Isn't Hard to Master..."

Photo by Wojtek Mejor. Used under Creative Commons license

I went to register at my new local library tonight (hurrah!) and some time after coming home realised that I couldn't find my mobile phone. I thought that I had left it at the library, which probably isn't the worst place to leave a mobile, but it's never good. Of course, after a couple of minutes of panic, I found it on my bed buried under a pile of stuff. Great relief.

I feel lately as though I have been trying to lose things, or coming close to losing them, or thinking that I have lost them. Usually not major things. Still, whatever it is, I tend to struggle between panic and annoyance and irritation with myself. "How could I be so stupid?" applies even if it's a pair of gloves from Primark. And yet, I very seldom seem to succeed in actually losing things. They are there when I go back, or they turn out to have been at home all along.

ONE ART (Elizabeth Bishop)

I think that Elizabeth Bishop's wonderful 'One Art' is so beloved because there is no question that we can all relate. It is a supremely simple yet subtle poem that builds from the commonplace and faintly funny to the despairing. "So many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster."

Finally, though, the poet arrives at the loss of the loved one. It would be so much simpler if the loss of objects and things - ranging from the inconsequential to the priceless - could prepare us for the loss of people, but it doesn't. I learned yesterday that an old family friend had died at the age of 103. Hardly a surprise, but still - loss.

And there are many ways to lose someone. The loss of the living can be the most painful. Sometimes it is totally inevitable, sometimes it is for the best, but always, always it leaves me feeling something on the sliding scale between tedious and tragic. It will never be less, that is certain.


  1. I like this poem a lot. I feel that there's a connection with memory too, as in "I lost two cities, lovely ones". Perhaps (it just occurred to me) it could also refer to the loss of dreams - "where it was you meant to travel". A beloved poem, indeed, but far too sad!

    PS: I'm sorry for your loss.

    1. Thank you! I like what you've taken from the poem, too; I don't think I'd seen those aspects yet. It's a poem that can mean a great deal to so many people because there are so many forms of loss and you can relate it to what is most meaningful in your life. I was thinking of a few people, and situations, when I wrote this.