In this poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop what literally occurs is that the speaker proposes that some things are essentially intended to be lost and that losing them should not be taken so seriously. She claims that we become accustomed to loss by working with little things like “door keys” or “the hour badly spent” (line 5), so that when considerable losses happen we will be prepared for it. Also, as the poem progresses it shifts to more significant losses.
The theme of the poem addresses that losing love or friendship is truly difficult to cope with.
The speaker can be characterized as old, wise, and full of experiences in life. This can be inferred because she has obviously lived in many different places and has traveled much due to the fact that she’s “lost two cities” and once “owned two rivers, a continent” (lines 13-14). The speaker’s tone towards the subject of loss is detached because she truly understands within her heart how awful loss feels. This tone becomes conceivable at the end of the poem for it ends with the words “like disaster” (line 19).
The poem’s auditory quality is euphonious, harmonious, and pleasant. This effect is produced by words containing long vowels and soft consonants such as “master” and “fluster” and “vaster”. Also, a device that creates the pleasing sound of the poem is rhyme words such as “intent” and “spent”.
The structure of this poem consists of the villanelle form. It comprises of nineteen lines split up into six stanzas. Three lines are in all the stanzas except the last. The last stanza contains four lines. Furthermore, the rhyme scheme is very particular. All the lines in the poem follow only two end rhymes -either “master” or “intent”. The meter of the poem seems to be in a very loose form of iambic pentameter for each line contains either ten or eleven syllables in which every other syllable is stressed.
One observable device is the repetition of materialism visible through “door keys” (line 5) and a “mother’s watch” (line 10) that are lost. Its presence is most notably in the first four stanzas of the poem. This device functions to develop the theme that addresses the unimportance of losing material possessions.
The motif of loss is a perceivable device in this poem that is displayed from top to bottom. Loss is observable through lost time in which “the hour was badly spent” to lost love (line 5). This device produces a sorrowful tone because the speaker is being sarcastic when she says “the art of losing’s not too hard to master” (line 18).
Another observable device is irony. It becomes apparent within the last stanza when the speaker says that “it’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master” (line 18). This is ironic because it’s the opposite of what Bishop feels. Irony functions to characterize Bishop as having a hard time acknowledging the pain of her loss, even to herself. She’s incompetent in coping with true sentimental loss for it “may look like disaster” (line 19).
Diction is another device that is observable. It is visible throughout the entire book. Bishop chooses many words very particularly such as the phrase in lines two and three where she beautifully states that “many things seem filled with the intent/ to be lost that their loss is no disaster”. Diction produces an outstanding effect by making the poem appear very conversational and almost effortless.
A final observable device in this poem is the motif of art, which is utilized as a means of depicting and describing loss. This art of loss is one that is undoubtedly “too hard to master” (line 18) for no matter how practiced we become at the “art of losing”, we will never really be ready for losses, which will always seem “like disaster” (line 19). The motif of art functions as a means of bearing with loss for Bishop, because she compels herself to face her losses by writing them down.
Sources: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
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