Monday, May 18, 2009

one art - elizabeth bishop

A good friend lent me a copy of a superb anthology of poetry, Strong Measures, when I had expressed to him some interest in reading and composing more classic poetic forms. As of late, I’ve found this particular book particularly invaluable. Though I’ve specifically been focusing most of my recent creative efforts in the writing of pantoums, I found a vianelle by Elizabeth Bishop eloquently haunting. Like the pantoum, the vianelle is defined by a series of repetitions of either lines or words. That is to say, the form is intrinsically designed to be haunting; I acknowledge how I have been manipulated. In this piece, the repeated lines are reiterated with subtle changes that enhance their emotional impact, though the images are pedestrian in nature. The poem moves from household objects to, eventually, globally expansive concepts but never adopts the tone of grandiosity. The repetitions assist it in staying focused in an almost clinical manner. Though amidst its clinical and aloof tone, the poem elicits a pointed emotional response. The speaker requires this tone to engage the poem's loaded subject matter, the subject of loss.

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.

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