Treasure Island

Elizabeth Bishop

(8 February 1911 – 6 October 1979 / Worcester, Massachusetts)

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One Art


The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept 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 lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss 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's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003
Edited: Thursday, May 23, 2013

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Read poems about / on: lost, travel, loss, mother, city, river

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  • * Sunprincess * (6/6/2014 6:16:00 PM)

    ..............a very interesting write....I prefer not to lose any keys....it would definitely feel like a disaster.....enjoyed.. (Report) Reply

  • Linda Johnson (4/8/2014 10:24:00 PM)

    It's interesting to note that after the first 3 verses she starts writing about losing things she never owned- her mothers watch, the continent... (quote) 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. end quote
    And then later in the poem... even losing you.
    It seems at first look that it is a poem about denial, but I wonder, is it really about her loss of a friend or lover, and even more so- difficult to come to terms of the fact that one can not really lose what you don't own, but maybe that is why it forces her to continue the last few words. Why though, did she include 'like disaster at the end- instead of just disaster? (Report) Reply

  • Liliana ~el (10/21/2013 7:41:00 PM)

    A very lighthearted and uplifting take on loss and usual frustration, often ultimate chaos!
    Lovely (Report) Reply

  • Ongu Oruc (3/31/2013 2:23:00 PM)

    May I ask you why you wrote this comment from the movie ''In her shoes''(2005) ? It was Maggie's(Cameron Diaz) speech in the movie. (Report) Reply

  • Barbara Roth (1/27/2013 3:28:00 AM)

    Elizabeth is talking about a friend in this poem. At first, she talks about the loss of real things, i.e. keys, a watch. She then talks about things that you can't get back, i.e., a continent, river. She tries to use the tone that she's detached, as if it doesn't matter, but in fact it does. It's the not the loss of a lover, but something more dear to her; it's the loss of a friend. (Report) Reply

  • Jan Hauck (4/16/2012 8:32:00 AM)

    I can see why this poem gets such high ratings and it is good. For me personally it is still one step away from perfection because the form of a Villanelle hasn't not quite been followed through with. (Report) Reply

  • Mohammed Abdalla (1/9/2012 11:59:00 PM)

    The writer is going around in pretension shamming indifferent to the loss of all these things mentioned, which might be true, to some extent, but the only real loss she's referring to - with (even you) is the cause of all this mayhem and the one that really counts with her, and it's obvious to be a friend, a dear, or the dearest friend. because only really dearest ones can provide fuel for this massive poetic ignition. (Report) Reply

  • Frida Sloth (7/4/2010 5:32:00 PM)

    every day you lose something, small things such as car keys. little things that doesn't make your day or life a total dissaster. then one day it could happen to you that you would loose something valueable. something that will make you life a dissaster. it might not take a day. day after day you will loose this thing bit after bit and suddenly it dissapears. this thing is called love. it's not the love to a lover. it's the deepest love of all. it's the love to a friends. Think about how it would be to you, loosing your friends joking voice, or your friends smile, the little things there is with this person that makes you love that person even more. that would be a dissaster, wouldn't it? (Report) Reply

  • Shannon Garrison (6/7/2010 1:28:00 AM)

    I know what elizabeth means in this pome becuase i feel this exsact way at the moment. i havent figured out if she is talking about a friend or a lover but i am sure that she mean no matter what you lose in life rather it be material things or a real connection as ie a person who u loved dearly that is more evident that the person is takeing presedent over material things. She implying she can cover her grief mostly through most losses in life but in the last loss that this one will be harder to cover ie write it :) just my thought.. (Report) Reply

  • Emily S (2/19/2009 9:19:00 PM)

    I'm doing a project for school about Elizabeth Bishop (specifically this poem) and I had to disagree with what most people have said. Has anyone actually researched her life? You might know that Bishop was a lesbian, and her partners could have been both friends and lovers. And why would you think a lover wouldn't have a lasting effect on her? This poem (actually the last stanza) lines up with her life and makes more sense if you look at it in that context. (Report) Reply

  • Alexandra Burt (12/18/2008 6:24:00 AM)

    I think she's talking about a friend in the last stanza because she's trying to sound more indifferent, although where she says (Write it!) its evident that losing that person really is a disaster since she has to push herself to write the last two words. It seems that the person she's losing will have a long-term effect on her and that she knows the person very well by the (the joking voice, a gesture I love) . If it was a lover, it wouldn't sound like losing that person would have a lasting effect on her. She would have been able to get over losing a lover fairly quickly, but it takes longer to get over losing a good friend. (Report) Reply

  • Jacob Lowey (10/29/2008 9:36:00 PM)

    This poem is so good with its somewhat ironic subject. Not many people consider losing an 'art' Elizabeth Bishop shows how she does not truly believe that losing 'isn't hard to master' with various gives, some of the more obvious ones including the '(Write it!) ' and the slant rhymes at the end of lines 4 and 16. Also, the fact that there is one more disaster than master (if you count them) unbalances the structure, and shows that losing that someone, be it lover or friend, was truly a disaster that she has yet to master.
    Sorry for analyzing a bit too much, I'm doing this for practice =P (Report) Reply

  • Nina .a. (10/16/2008 3:27:00 PM)

    I just adore this poem its amazing capturing and fulfiling :) she's my new idol and i dont even know anything about her hehe (Report) Reply

  • Alice Heggie (4/27/2008 4:38:00 PM)

    Amy Hayden... do not quote from films when critiquing a poem. Specifically in this case from 'In Her Shoes'.
    It's not doing you any favours. (Report) Reply

  • Amy Hayden (4/21/2008 12:33:00 AM)

    I most deffinately have to agree with Rashad, the poem is about loosing love, but not the love of a lover. At first she talks about loosing real things like keys and a watch, but then she talks about loosing things such as a continent, she's getting grandiose, Bishop is trying to make it seam like it doesnt matter, her tone is detached, she wants to sound detached becuse she knows deep down how bad it's going to feel to loose. but it isnt a lover that she's loosing it's a friend, friendship. I absolutely love this poem! ! ! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • Cynthia Brown (10/7/2007 6:50:00 PM)

    The author tries very hard to detach herself from her pain – a pain so horrible in the end, it is compared constantly to “disaster”; albeit, through barely discernable and subtle skepticism. In shrugging off her losses, she attempts to justify what she hopes will bring her peace – taking loss to an art form. This inhuman feat can never be successfully accomplished – among mere mortals anyway. “Even losing you, ” she says, is obviously the most unbearable of losses – so much so she cannot even she cannot bring herself to write the word and so it is through parenthetic pause (Write it) she once again feels the gravity of her loss – again the word “disaster”.

    Note also that in the first three stanzas she repeats:

    The art of losing is not hard to master.

    When it comes to losing the friend or lover that statement becomes:

    The art of losing is not too hard to master.

    To me, this puts the reader on notice that if it we were to simply remove the word “not”, the true meaning of the poem is revealed. When one tries to hard to convince me of something, they are usually fooling themselves. (Report) Reply

  • A.a. Flow (5/11/2007 11:51:00 PM)

    One of her greatest and most influential poems. The last line's parenthetic exclamation redeems the ironic stance on loss (as if the art of losing was easy to master) . It says, with a lump in the throat, but full resolve, 'get on with your life! '
    Two other great poems: The Moose, The Fish (Report) Reply

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