Elizabeth Bishop’s six-stanza villanelle ‘one art’ is a misleading poem dealing with the struggle of mastering the issue of loss and how to interpret it. Through the use of a rather casual tone and understatement, as well as crescendo stanzas, Bishop succeeds to mislead the reader and bring the dramatic last stanza as an unexpected outcome, quite in contrast with the rest of the poem. My analysis will try to show how through the use of language, tone and poetic devices, Bishops achieves to engage the reader into a complex reflection about the importance of putting things in perspective and how she manages to convey a message.
The first stanza of the poem starts with a claim stating, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master”. By saying so, the speaker suggests that the action of losing, which is qualified as a skill, an “art” is rather insignificant and “no disaster”. The tone, rather casual and ironic is quite misleading for it contrasts with the serious subject of the poem. Going on, the speaker straightly urges the reader to “lose something everyday” and “accept the fluster”. Here, the use of the imperative form which gives the impression that the speaker is giving instructions is disturbing and appeals to make us wonder why the author advices such a thing. Because the poetic voice takes on didactic characteristics, we get the impression that the poem is based on the author’s own personal experience with loss. From there, we have a progressive gradation in the things that are lost. We start from insignificant objects such as “door keys”, and quickly move on to far more serious aspects such as time with “the hour badly spent”. However, Bishop seems to make no difference between losing material things such as keys and time, not recoverable. By directly connecting the two she seems not to discern any hierarchy and suggests that the losses themselves are not what matters the most at the end. The stanza ends with the...
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