Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Loss leader

Something I like to do here every now and then is put up a poem I like.  The reasons why it has to be one I like should be obvious.  Anyway, this is a classic exemplar of the villanelle, a form I have a great deal of fondness for.


One Art
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 nnames 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.

It's a fairly popular poem, and I think it can be misunderstood.  The speaker isn't bulletproof. If you listen the tone is philosophical, not blithe.  It doesn't deny the anxiety resulting from loss. It speaks of trying to channel it.  (Write it!)

Then again in texture, in mood, it's not a heavy poem either.  It achieves lightness in a paradoxical way.  Which is an admission I'll never really be able to explain it.


susan said...

This one isn't a poem I'm familiar with, neither is the form, but I can understand why you like it as it rings very true. It seems to me there's a strong element of nostalgia running through its entirety.

Ben said...

Yeah, part of the nostalgic quality lies in the author's voice. It also seems connected to the repetion of lines, albeit with subtle differences. The editors of the poetry book I'm reading talk about it.