“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop is a villanelle. Bishop writes about the pain of losing a beloved and how to deal with this loss. Bishop uses her life experience maybe to persuade herself or the reader but she has difficulties to convince herself that separation is a disaster. This is why in this poem Bishop creates a new art by claiming that writing and losing are one art. Because of this intent, losing the things is “no disaster”. But the repetitive structure of the villanelle gives the effect of the difficulty of losing important things.
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This poem is a villanelle but Bishop does not follow the traditional villanelle. The use of same repetitive words as “lost”(10), “last” (10), influences the tone of the poem. Bishop only changes the beginning of the villanelle but holds the end using the word “disaster” or “master”. She uses these words but does not take them to start the line. When she changes the beginning of the villanelle, the situation she talks about before seems to make a good effect to the poem as for instance: “Loss something every day. Accept the fluster” (4) or “Then practice losing farther, losing faster” (7). Indeed, when she compares the loss of her beloved with banal objects such as the loss of “door keys” (5), her “mother watch” (10), it is to reassure herself and to convince herself it is possible to master the loss of things. When she repeats “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” (6,12), she is making an effort to gain this control. She is persuaded to have the control over the loss of material things but not only over material stuff but also maybe over human being such as someone she loved.
At the end of the poem the speaker has been addressing a lost lover. She has lost someone and this person is gone. When she repeats the words “master” and “disaster”, they finally don’t have the same meaning as in the other stanza: “The art of losing’s not too hard to master/though it may look like (Write it) like disaster” (18-19), Bishop admits it is not possible to control some losses. She faces the fact that losing a beloved is disastrous. Effectively, the repetition of the word “like” in form of the poem gives the idea that the there is an impossible control of the disaster, when looking at rhymes. It is through this impossible control it is possible to show the difficulty of losing important things.
When looking at rhymes, in the first stanza and the other stanza the words “master” (1) and “disaster” (3) rhyme. The rhyme could show the difficulty of control over disaster because at the end there is a disaster. In the second stanza, “fluster” (4) and master (6) also rhyme. Moreover, the strength of the word “master” is weakened by the words it rhymes with. That shows the idea of a difficult control on disaster. Furthermore, in the third stanza, the two rhymes “faster” (7) and “vaster” (13), give an uncontrollable and immeasurable dimension to the word disaster in the last line. Bishop is trying hard to convince herself that losing a beloved is no disaster by remembering past losses that she mastered. Moreover, the reality catches her up, it is a disaster.
Before repeating the word disaster in the fourth stanza, Bishop talks about the loss two cities. She is speaking figuratively because the loss of a city is a minor thing. A city is not really easy to lose. She does not have a relation with these places but with the art of losing she thinks that the pain of losing can be diminished. The repetitive structure of the villanelle repetition allows to show that Bishop tries to believe that the art of losing is not painful, especially because the things she says she lost are material or superficial like: “houses” (11), “names” (8), “places” (8) but those things do not seem affect her because she says: “None of these will bring disaster” (9). Bishop’s intention is optimistic, she uses futile things to explain that the loss of a beloved is not so horrible but finally she realizes that it is a disaster. She is somehow a guide for the reader. She tries to teach him to adopt a certain behavior to more easily accept the loss.
With the closer repetition in the poem it is possible to see the difficulty of losing things, especially a beloved. She lists at the end what she has personally in lost: “Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture /I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident” (16-17). In fact, loss shows to be a total disaster for her.
The repetitive structure of the villanelle shows the difficulty of losing important things when she repeats the same words again and again. The words reflect on the meaning of the whole poem especially the words “master” and “disaster”. The repetitions throughout the poem of “the art of losing isn’t hard to master” and “loss is no disaster” show that Bishop has the conviction that losses are not insurmountable. The regularity of these two verses: “the art of losing isn’t hard to master” and “loss is no disaster” demonstrates that the more she repeats them, the more losses become insignificant and forgotten. Then the tone becomes increasingly intimate over the poem and the losses more and more important; the difficulty of losing important things is stronger.
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In this poem the repetition of words is essential to understand the state of mind of Bishop. The way she uses the same rhymes can see how she is devastated by the loss of her beloved. By using the non-traditional villanelle, she tries to use different ways to explain what a loss is in order to reassure herself. She realizes only at the end of the poem that everything she lost before is insignificant compared to the loss of a beloved. By modifying the villanelle she shows that she is not enough sure about her statement to assume its strict and formal form. The fact that the beginning of the villanelle is never the same shows her mind’s confused state. Moreover, when she expresses her feelings about a more intimate and sensible subject, she realizes that among the cited losses, there are different degrees of importance that do not allow her to keep the strictness of the usual form and this has an effect on the difficulty of losing things.
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