Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Art of Losing

I am constantly losing things. Before 10:00 a.m. this morning I had already misplaced the checkbook and my cell phone. A frantic search ended in the recovery of both items (one in the car and one between the couch cushions, naturally). My frantic searches usually end in such a way. Everything turns out okay in the end, but me storming around the house hunting for missing stuff is never fun to watch.

It's funny how the mundane events of life can bring a poem to mind. One of my favorites is "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop, and I've been thinking about it since my things turned up.

One Art
By 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.

Please read the final three stanzas. You won't be disappointed. The ending is stellar and somewhat heartbreaking. The first five stanzas build dramatically towards this ending--from keys, to names, to a house (how do you lose a house?), and finally to a person--"you." Throughout, she seems to twist the language and the words in a slightly unexpected way; you're really forced to slow down and pay attention. By the end, you're drawn into a poem where even within the strict rules of the villanelle form form, there are surprises in nearly every line, particularly when we come to realize that no matter how many times we repeat it, the art of losing is painfully hard to master.

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