Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorite poets. This poem is one I would like to memorize. Do I have the cheek to use it as a model?

We can notice that it is a villanelle (nineteen lines; five tercets followed by a quatrain; full rhymes, and a repeated, or almost repeated line that shimmies all the length of the poem). But notice, too, how it’s a list poem, and an instruction poem, addressed to a beloved you.  You might borrow one or all of these techniques for your NaPoWriMo poem. (Why does typing that make me want to add a smiley face?)

Working in this form with students, I suggest that they think of a family saying, something they heard repeated throughout their childhood. (Take care of your teeth, and they will take of you! A place for everything and everything in its place!)

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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