“One Art”

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop, has been on my mind recently as President Trump continues to refuse to accept his loss of the election. It is described as “a tongue-in-cheek little instruction book on loss,” by Reiter and Weisberger in The Healing Fountain. In her masterful villanelle, Bishop repeatedly claims that “the art of losing isn’t hard to master.” She advises us to practice losing daily, starting with small losses — like house keys — and progressing to larger ones — like a home. This way, when the profound losses come, we can accept them — even if they feel like a disaster.

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.

Elizabeth Bishop

Bishop’s poem suggests that all losses are equal, and, with practice, we can accept the loss of a loved one in the same way we might accept the loss of a precious watch. As much as we wish it were so, we know this is not true. We are attached to things and people we love. The command at the end — to write that losing a loved one is not a disaster — is a form of denial, which we know is an essential step in the grieving process. We also know that writing about loss — no matter what stage we’re in — can help us come to terms with it, as Bishop’s poem skillfully demonstrates.

Do you agree that losing is an art that can be mastered? Are there losses that you need to master? Try writing about them from whatever step of the coping process you’re in.


“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop form The Complete Poems 1926-1979, 1983. Copyrighted material used for educational purposes.

Reiter, S. & Weisberger, L. (2003). Coping With Grief and Loss. In G.C. Chavis & L.L. Weisberger (Eds.), The Healing Fountain: Poetry Therapy for Life’s Journey (p. 116).

Photo by Dado Ruvic in “Coming to Terms With Loss in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art'” by Joseph Frankel, The Atlantic, 2017.


  1. This poem immediately made me think of a lesson my sister-in-law taught me when I first started knitting. She said, “unknitting your creation is a good lesson.” Of course, at first I was clinging to my first precious knitted goodies. It took me awhile to start to unknit bits and pieces, just as practice. It was liberating and it made me “knitflect” on memories and feelings I had weaved in and out in the process. The other day I attended a memorial service (virtual) and thought of letting go while keeping the feelings and memories.

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  2. So interesting. Personally, I think the only way to master loss is to lose one’s mind/memory/faculties. When that happens, then all is lost and any loss does not matter because your mind won’t recognize it as such. So having said that, I’m not so sure I want to become a loss Master. I think for now I’ll stick with my amateur status and continue to suffer the frustration/anxiety/pain/trauma of loss instead, and hope that they are few and far between……

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  3. I don’t necessarily agree that a loss can be mastered. A loss of a material thing? Yes. But the loss of a loved one or a pet? No. Maybe over time it doesn’t sting as much. I did like the poem.

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  4. I like the idea of thinking of smaller losses as a way to show how we daily cope with loss, giving us hope that we can cope with the larger ones. I agree with Nancy Tighe; material loss can be practiced with a good effect. I literally have begun saying, it’s just an object, when I accidentally damage or destroy an object that has been in the family for decades. But no matter how careful we are, though, we will continue to lose loved ones. I don’t see steps in grieving; I see different vantage points that can change over time. We sometimes anticipate a disaster in loss. Is that more than a vantage point?

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