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"One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop.

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Introduction

English commentary: Dianna Gu "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop The poem, "One Art", has a title that conveys the unspoken suggestion that mastery sought over loss in love is closely related to poetic control. The poem articulates the tension between discipline in life and the force of circumstance. The poem speaks in the tones of the survivor. The simple sentence of the opening stanza seems to subvert the title, declaring that this poem is not about art, rather, it is concerned with an acquired skill, the "art of losing." The opening line does not allow the readers to feel as if the poet is speaking them from the heart. Rather, it feels more like a speech where the poet is informing the audience of the art of losing, almost like Bishop is giving an old prescription such as "an apple a day, keeps the doctor away". This, however, leads into the specifics of daily loss-of keys, of time-syntactic parallelism suggesting an equal weight of what we immediately recognize as hardly equal realities. Such parallelism provides a temporary distraction that draws the reader away from the force building in the poem. ...read more.

Middle

This may be as the poet feels frustration in the audiences' ability to comprehend these lessons of loss. It seems that Bishop draws to the heart of the matter by reminiscing an ultimate parting gift, her mother's watch, an artefact that links the living and dead, recalling a time, expressing a generation, thus making solid the feeling of irretrievable loss. Looking to the truth, depths and pain of this loss, Bishop, however, exploits what is, after all it is only one more 'minor family relic'. The poet defers the threat of sentiment by the sweeping rhetorical gesture of "And look!" Her life, no longer a chaos of events, seems orderly and safe as Bishop records and schedules her losses: "my last, or / next-to-last, of three loved houses went." Her autobiography assumes an oddly reassuring linearity and predictability as the poem hurtles toward its closure. The poet, further emboldened by self-knowledge, begins again in the fifth stanza with "I lost." The scale has tipped; forsaking the personal for "two cities, lovely ones" the poet supplies lineaments and character to these scenic vagaries. The poet approaches an unspecified, yet concrete, type of loss: "two rivers, a continent". ...read more.

Conclusion

In the line, "It's evident / the art of losing's not too hard to master", is the adverbial "too". This increases the growing tension within the desire to repeat the poem's refrain while, on the other hand, admitting growing doubts as to its accuracy. The word "shan't" is used very effectively in the last stanza. This word, with its overformal stiffness and its old-fashioned sound, says both 'I'm lying' and 'I'm not lying"; in one word she successfully combines opposite meanings in one utterance. The poem has a theatrical last line commencing with a qualification, "though". It continues on to a suggestion rather than the assertion we might expect of a last line "it may look", then, it extends to a comparison that's doubled. The repetition in the line: "like ... like", gives a stuttering feel, the poet's voice literally cracks. Finally this is interrupted by a parenthetical injunction that is both a confession and a compulsion. This creates a mood for the final word, so that when "disaster" finally comes, it sounds with a shocking finality. The directness that comes to dominate in Bishop's poem describes the relationship between the will and the world. "One Art" reveals an ironic playfulness that works in collusion with high seriousness, a strategy that grows throughout Bishop's work. ...read more.

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