Elizabeth Bishop

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

One Art - Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

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.

Form: Villanelle

Comments about One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

  • Robert Howard (3/19/2016 10:21:00 AM)

    A most elegant Villanelle from a writer certainly mastered poetic language. (Report) Reply

    2 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Vladimir Petani (3/11/2016 10:15:00 AM)

    Art, loss, mastering. Nothing can be mastered in our lives, least of all in art. But Art (write it!) gives us the best way of coping with disaster and emotional ruin that it entails (write (right) it!) . (Report) Reply

  • Judy Meibach Judy Meibach (2/18/2016 11:13:00 PM)

    This is by far one of the most profound poems I have ever read - it is my favorite - while I find the villanelle to be a little bizarre, this particular piece is extraordinary, in all its best - it was used in an American film last year that talked about Alzheimers - and worked so beautifully in this realm (Report) Reply

  • Mohammed Asim Nehal Mohammed Asim Nehal (1/3/2016 1:25:00 AM)

    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. (Report) Reply

  • Maria Keeney (12/26/2015 4:24:00 PM)

    What's surprising to me is that so many people interpret the line: 'I lost my mother's watch' as an actual 'wristwatch/pocket watch/timepiece'. I have always wondered if Bishop intended 'watch' as in 'watchful eye/ one that watches over her child' because her mother was gone from Bishop's life when Bishop was only a small child. She lost her mother watching over her- hence, 'lost her mother's watch'. (Report) Reply

  • Susan Manipole (12/15/2015 10:14:00 AM)

    There were quotation marks around her -* joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied -* that didn't show up in my original post. I wonder why but in the event that they don't show up again I have marked the quote with an asterisk or star. (Report) Reply

  • Susan Manipole (12/15/2015 10:02:00 AM)

    When Bishop refers to a loss of her mother's watch it isn't literal. I believe she is referring to the loss of time, time she couldn't have with her mother because her mom was institutionalized when Bishop was a child. Some losses are trivial, keys and poorly spent time but others you might never recover from. The loss of geography could refer to her two week visit to Brazil, in what was supposed to be a step in her South American tour, becoming seventeen years because she fell in love with Lota de Macedo Soares. Lota was a Brazilian woman who became the love of her life. The poems eulogizes the death of Lota, her joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied. This loss was a disaster when Lota killed herself while visiting Bishop after being hospitalized in Brazil for a nervous breakdown. After Lota's death Bishop spent most of her time in the states hence the loss of several geographic locations. It is a great poem but the content or meaning behind the words is heartbreaking. (Report) Reply

  • Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (11/17/2015 2:27:00 AM)

    Humans losses something in the long journey of life. A beautiful poem this experienced. (Report) Reply

  • Sofia Kioroglou Sofia Kioroglou (9/21/2015 4:49:00 AM)

    Sublime! A wonderful write that gives ample food for thought! The art of losing is not hard to master! Excellent! (Report) Reply

  • Anon Amys (9/9/2015 7:47:00 PM)

    Love it! Who can even think of something like this? I really enjoyed reading it and hope to see some more great poems (Report) Reply

  • Briony Nicholls Briony Nicholls (9/1/2015 8:41:00 AM)

    Who can argue with Bishop? Not anyone who has lived long enough to know that constantly losing is a constant. I like the first three lines most of all because of her observation that most things seem intent on being lost, so why mourn them when they finally are lost. I love Elizabeth Bishop's very sharp perception and observation. (Report) Reply

  • Robyn Elliman (8/11/2015 3:18:00 AM)

    Lovely poem, really enjoyed it. (Report) Reply

  • Virgil Watts (5/26/2015 8:56:00 PM)

    My favorite aspect of this poem is the way in which Bishop uses litotes to establish that the art of losing, while it isn't hard to master (i.e. loss is a natural aspect of life) , also is not necessarily easy to bear. I've also always been fascinated by the interjection of Write it! in the final line, which, to me at least, adds a more visceral and emotional weight to the poem which leaves the categorical statement repeated throughout (The art of losing isn't hard to master) somewhat unresolved. (Report) Reply

  • Julie Heath (10/27/2014 5:18:00 AM)

    we're all seeking to master the one art of loss, to master disaster, to eventually care less. (Report) Reply

  • John Richter (10/21/2014 2:03:00 PM)

    I think this is an amusing, playful little poem about losing things, where Elizabeth is exemplifying quite dramatically not so much the art of losing, but rather realizing the affect it has upon us, especially when trying so hard to remain chin-up over loss. And she had many losses to swallow during her lifetime. The remark of continents make sense to me because I think she spent much time outside of the U.S.. And of course she lost a very dear friend while living in Brazil, of which I suspect this poem might be reflecting.... But beautiful none the less, which is why Elizabeth has become one of my very favorite American modern poets. (Report) Reply

  • Bull Hawking (10/21/2014 12:46:00 PM)

    I wonder if she is speaking of poetry itself.....since it IS hard to master the art of leaving the right thing out to make it perfectly incomplete.....think... Hopkins'....A Disorder In The Dress. (Report) Reply

  • Kay Staley (10/21/2014 9:47:00 AM)

    I suppose this is a classic. I see it around everywhere. (Report) Reply

  • Pranab K Chakraborty Pranab K Chakraborty (10/21/2014 8:35:00 AM)

    Excellent. Simply unique the expression fits with just this 14. And the message universal, don't try to repeat again...rather a law of nature we simply try to build guard-wall to resit its natural course...confused...is that called civilization! ..........................Good poem indeed. (Report) Reply

  • Herbert Guitang Herbert Guitang (4/26/2014 5:55:00 AM)

    A profound and deep in context. SUPERB (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

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

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

Poem Edited: Thursday, May 23, 2013

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