some realms I owned...

ten poems for changing eye and hand

Elizabeth Bishop

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.


A flawless piece. Pure Bishop in every sense. The form has never worked better.

Every writer should study how Bishop developed this poem - 16 separate drafts - in Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts and Fragments, pp. 223-240. Amazing.

No real commentary is needed. The poem defends itself well.


LKD said...

I've read this poem countless times since I first fell in love with it however many years ago when I first encountered it, and today, reading it here on your blog, I realized that I've somehow managed to "read over" or somehow, mentally omit, the second and third line. For some reason, they were, until today, invisible to me.

Which I know sounds strange, but you know how you can stand in the open door of the fridge staring in, searching in vain for the jar of Hellmann's and damned if it's not right there in front of you but you just can't "see" it?

This whole sudden eye-opening experience accompanies a handful of days during which I have suffered beneath the weight of obliterating, soul-eating anger, the likes of which I haven't felt in years. Too, just last night, and the night before, I almost wrote a single line on my blog about how the objects one most loves, the material things that matter most, the ones we most cling to are the ones we must be most willing to let go of first.

And now, these lines about things that seem INTENT on being lost blooming like a giant peony in my face.

I still don't know what to do about this anger, but tonight, after rereading Bishop's lines and finally seeing them, maybe the anger is beginning to fracture, to break up into more manageable pieces.

So, thank you, Sam, for posting this poem.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

For me, the selling point in the poem is the development of small to big – keys, hours badly spent to three loved houses, two rivers, a continent. That is how it’s done, and helps me trust the voice.

And the interruption, vintage Bishop, (Write it!), puts me inside the speaker's mind. In the poem, I’ve been seeing the world, all along, through her eyes. That's strong. Add to this the voice that whispers "like ... like" and I'm hopelessly hooked.

Thanks for the read, Laurel.

Christine said...

I just did a presentation on Bishop today. We touched on that poem briefly. (It's actually not my favorite of hers because of the rhyming -- I know I'm alone in this. I like Crusoe in England better.) Anyway, you know she did at least 12 drafts of this? You can see them in Edgar Allen Poe and The Jukebox.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

"Crusoe in England" is my favorite poem - period, Christine. And I believe it is her best. A magnificent poem.

I understand your thought about the rhyme, but she did that to stay as close to the villanelle form as possible. The poem didn't start that way, but she worked into the more strict form. I guess she could have written the villanelle in a free form as Pound did, but that wasn't her style.