Short Summary of “One Art” Poem by Elizabeth Bishop

Looking at each stanza, the first stanza is where the speaker fearlessly declares that there is no big deal about loss and we should be comfortable with it. ‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master….their loss is no disaster’.

In the second stanza the poem continues with a dull tone and persuades us to practice losing stuff daily by learning to lose less significant things like door keys. She tells us to ‘accept the fluster’ suggesting that we should not be agitated by the loss of these items. It is not just the loss of things that the speaker talks but also the loss of an intangible stuff like ‘time’.

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In the third stanza the losses mentioned by the speaker seem to be unclear but they keep growing in significance. People’s names and places do not seem to be things of much significance.

Things begin to get personal in the fourth stanza when the speaker mentions that she lost her mother’s watch. A mother’s watch may carry a lot of emotional significance. The loss of a house you once loved may mean losing all the pleasant memories you once shared. The speaker still insists and comforts us that ‘the art of losing isn’t too hard to master’. This time we begin to doubt the speaker’s message.

The fifth stanza talks of lost cities, realm, two rivers and a continent. These things seem to be all too mysterious and we begin to wonder what meaning they carry to the speaker. At this point the speaker wants us to begin speculating a lot about what kind of loss she is actually referring to. But she still reassures us that losing all these things was no ‘disaster’. Are we convinced?

In the last stanza the speaker reveals to us that all along she has been lamenting the loss of a loved one. The poet does not inform us what kind of relationship they shared but this is one loss she has not mastered. All the boldness and humor is just an attempt to cover up her emotional vulnerability. She still misses this person she recalls ‘the joking voice, a gesture I love’. Deep inside, she is still human.


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