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“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop – MLA Style Analysis Essay for English 101

2012 October 29
by recessionjuice
Elizabeth Bishop (Credit: Alice Helen Methfessel, courtesy of Frank Bidart)

Essay Requirements:

For the poem selected, make a claim about how the LAST image or idea (the “ending”) is related to the meaning of the rest of the poem. Furthermore, consider how the formal elements of the poem help convey that meaning and attitude.

Author Comments about Paper

The use of my outside sources in this paper ended up with me losing some points on this assignment. The content was solid according to the teacher, however I must have not been clear on the use of outside sources when I turned the paper in. Overall, the poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop is a unique look at loss and how it effects us.


What are the first thoughts that come into the mind when hearing the word “Loss”? Losing is not a science or skill and some would argue that life is built to lose. A great way to help answer and focus in on some of these questions would be to read “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop, a Poet Laureate from 1949-1950 and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 (PoemHunter) was very articulate and passionate in her writings. The poem “One Art” focuses on the art of losing and how to interpret loss. The last ideas given by Bishop coincide with the rest of the writings meanings, those including acceptance, compassion, realistic expectations, participation, and realizing the potential for positive growth. Through her writing, Bishop exhibits the attributes of loss one must be aware of in order to triumph over it.

Body Paragraph 1

Bishop encourages the reader to show acceptance and compassion to loss, as shown throughout and in the last stanza of her writing. The last stanza goes like so:

“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 a disaster.” (Lines 16-19)

In the last stanza the author wraps up the poem with a moment of compassionate thought during a loss, as she explains, “Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love)” (16). Selecting her words carefully, “Love” is used only once in the poem, showing Bishops compassion and the words “Even losing you” mark the important tone of acceptance in the poem. These lines are one of the most direct references in the poem to a painful loss for Bishop. In addition to the latter, Bishop opens the poem with one line that will be seen throughout the poem, tellingly, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” (1). This phrase or similar to that was repeated in four of six stanzas in the writing. The repetition she chooses in her stanzas gives a reader the sense of Bishop actually encouraging those to accept loss, given that, loss “. . . isn’t hard to master” (1).
Loss is something that is repeated continuously throughout life as well as in Bishops poem. With the repetition of loss in “One Art”, Bishop provides opportunities for the reader to interpret it, one of those being the idea that a loss may at times appear more destructive in nature than they actually are.

Body Paragraph 2

Even with all the losses that life can bring, many times those losses have the appearance of something much worse than the reality; this is why realistic expectations are important for Bishop in defeating loss. These realistic expectations help guide her through unclear situations. Bishop shows the reader that losses are not always an actual disaster, “. . . though it may look like (Write it!)” (19). Bishop tells the reader to “Write it”, meaning to write a select losing scenario, like a disaster for example. Could one write a disaster or losing scenario with an exaggerated outcome than the reality of it? The short answer is – yes. Just in the past decade we had the scare of the Y2K crisis. This took place in the year of 2000 and there were many articles, interviews, and discussions of it. During this time it was safe to say that many were preparing for a very different world. As we know for a fact today in 2012, all writing and theories about a doomsday year of 2000 proved to be false. A loss on paper can always be scarier than the reality of it. A reader can take away from Bishops poem that “. . . though it may look like (Write it!)” (19) a seemingly guaranteed loss or disaster may in fact be exactly the opposite. The fear of loss can certainly bring people to act differently and affect their actions. Rather than fearing, the embracement of loss can be a good trait to learn and keep. Remembering that loss can also turn into growth, there is potential and opportunity for something entirely new and positive to come into play.

Body Paragraph 3

Embracing loss can be a wonderful thing when you accept it, being that not all loss will lead to disaster and has potential to grow into something healthy and bountiful once again. Bishop expands on this idea of potential for growth out of loss and appears to assist Bishop to get over loss itself. Further she explains to the reader the numerous losses she has taken, such as vast realms of property once owned and “. . . two rivers, a continent” (14), “I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster” (15). Digging for more answers, we can find abundant clues on times when a loss isn’t actually a complete disaster. Take the eruption on May of 1980 of Mt. St Helens in Washington State. The instant of the eruption there was instantaneous death and destruction of all natural and man-made structures near the blast zone. Effecting approximately 230-square miles, many areas that received the brunt of the blast looked much like a wasteland. Some of the first plant life returned to the affected area of Mt. St Helens years later around 1984, while Elk were spotted just a few weeks after initial blast. In addition to the birds, gophers, plant life and other wild life returning to the area, the blast zone is becoming the breeding ground for new life and abundance. (Mount St. Helens, Washington Life Returns to Mount St. Helens). It is understandable for one to miss the loss of what Mt. St Helens used to be, pre 1980 eruption, “. . .but it wasn’t a disaster” (15). From this example, it becomes clearer for a reader that in order to triumph over loss; there must also be participation in loss.

Body Paragraph 4

Bishop clearly encourages the reader’s actual participation in loss from her writing, harping back on that phrase many have or will hear sometime in their lives, “Practice Makes Perfect”. With more practice, one is trained and disciplined, therefore could handle loss more efficiently. The encouragement of participation in loss is readily apparent in the third stanza of the poem, with the idea being that by promoting the acceptance of loss, one may have an easier time triumphing over it. The author reminds the reader about daily loss, which would be considered normal, such as forgetting “. . . places, and names” (8). Bishop further directs the reader to, “practice losing farther, losing faster” (7). Living daily life is the practice for learning to lose quickly and/or more efficiently. At times we may forget what it is or who we are losing and why, due to the “practice” of losing. This is relatable to young individuals, during the first decade or two of life, everything seems new and exciting, but as they age, they lose interest and excitement on aspects that once would seem irresistible. From commonality and repetition, this kind of loss is no disaster for one’s life, as age does bring its own new experiences. This practice of learning to lose is achieved over time and is something everyone must accept sooner or later.


Bishop paints a picture clearer than most may care to think about loss. She shows through her writing that in order to triumph over loss, one must learn the attributes of acceptance, compassion, participation, realistic expectations, and realizing the potential for positive growth. She reminds us through the writing that the art of losing doesn’t mean disaster. There is a positive message made out of loss, even with all of the loss detailed in the writing. Next time you are dealing with a loss, positive or negative, remember it most likely won’t be a disaster and could very well be a learning lesson. What have you lost today?

Works Cited

“PoemHunter.” n.d. Biography of Elizabeth Bishop. Web. 08 Oct 2012.

“Mount St. Helens, Washington Life Returns to Mount St. Helens.” 30 Sept 2004. USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO). Web. 08 Oct 2012.

Tomajczyk , Stephen F. 101 Ways to Survive the Y2K Crisis. St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999. Web.