The Art Of Losing Isn’t Hard To Master

Bishop Nova Scotia Landscapejpg
Elizabeth Bishop Nova Scotia Landscape

“The armored cars of dreams, contrived to let us do so many a dangerous thing.”

Elizabeth Bishop

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

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.


One Art is a villanelle.   Villanelle’s are kissing cousins to sonnets.  Like sonnets they are highly structured poems with precise rhyming schemes and line arrangements, but with less emphasis on syllable count per line while always being 19 lines.  Villanelle’s have been around since the 1600’s but the most famous villanelles are from the 20th century, including;  Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl Love Story, W. H. Auden’s If I Could Tell You and Edwin Arlington Robinson’s The House On The Hill.  I have written a couple of villanelle’s in all their goofy complexity.  They are kind of fun because they take on a life of their own about half way through the writing process.  If you have never tried writing one, give it a go and let the rhyme and structure guide the process and see what your subconscious has been hiding from you. If you have written a villanelle and would like to share it, send it to Fourteenlines10@gmail.com and I’ll post it along with one of my own.

Elizabeth Bishop had the luxury of wealth throughout her lifetime and it afforded her the opportunity to go to Vassar, then travel the world, write poetry and paint. An independent woman of means, she often painted and wrote about subjects that were more aligned with the working class. Bishop understood strife and loss, both of her parents having died when she was very young.  She invested her time well in pursuit of her art, her poetry critically acclaimed, winning the Pulitzer in 1956.

We are adaptable as a species, if at a different rate and to a different extent as individuals. Change and loss is something that is integral to the human experience.  I was watching the movie A Little Chaos, and Kate Winslet’s pivotal moment in the film is when she addresses the King with  a metaphor, the wise rose, as a way of reminding the King about the beauty of his aging lovers. She give’s the King a rose and tells him the rose is oblivious to all the stages of its life, wilting, dropping its petals and forming a seed head to foster the next generation. She shifts the King’s perspective by saying it is only the gardener who tends the rose that morns its fading beauty.  Many of us are mourning the things we are losing or have lost.   Its good to remember loss is part of our nature too, and even faded  or remembered beauty is beautiful, as well.

 


Breakfast Song

by Elizabeth Bishop

My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue.
I kiss your funny face,
your coffee-flavored mouth.
Last night I slept with you.
Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you,
without the easy breath
and nightlong, limblong warmth
I’ve grown accustomed to?
—Nobody wants to die;
tell me it is a lie!
But no, I know it’s true.
It’s just the common case;
there’s nothing one can do.
My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue
early and instant blue.