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The poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop hails from Worcester, Massachusetts, not thirty minutes from my hometown. She lost both parents at a young age, her father dying before her first birthday and her mother was committed to an asylum shortly thereafter. Bishop was independently wealthy and after graduating from Vassar spent much of her time traveling the world.

I love the precise and true-to-life prose of her poem One Art:

One Art

- Elizabeth Bishop

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.

The first half of this poem makes me smile. Who can't relate to "accept the fluster/ of lost door keys, the hour badly spent"? But of course, by the end of the poem, we see that Bishop is really speaking of the concept of attachment. The attachment first of the superficial and our physical belongings: keys, a watch, a home. And then on to things of greater consequence: cities and loved ones.

What do you think? Should we learn the art of accepting loss?

Many religions deal with this same topic. We're taught that material things don't matter, neither do our home or our social status. Some go as far to say even our dearest family members are also attachments. We can do without these things, but of course we would prefer not to.

If we're supposed to be releasing ourselves from attachment, or practicing the art of losing, is there anything we can hold onto? Our health? Our education? God? Would freeing ourselves of these things bring disaster?

Editor's note: I've since seen this post referred to as "Elizabeth Bishop and the poetry of losing your shit" and I have to say I think it would have been an excellent alternative title for this piece.


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