Famous Sad Poem

Possibly her most famous poem, Elizabeth Bishop's, One Art is a villanelle, a 6 stanza poem that consists of five tercets (3 line stanzas), and one concluding quatrain (4 line stanza). For more about this challenging poetry form see How To Write a Villanelle.
This poem is about loss and starts off light with a touch of humor, but loss is certainly not a humorous topic and as the stanzas go on the losses mount. Losing our most precious possessions, our friends and loved ones is a most difficult burden. Bishop lost both her parents as a child. Her father died when she was an infant and her mother was committed to an Insane Asylum when she was five. She never saw her mother again and grew up in the homes of various relatives.

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One Art


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.

more Elizabeth Bishop



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