Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Bishop: Bishop turns 100 on Tuesday

A long time "dead mentor" of mine and an inspiration for me is Elizabeth Bishop. She turns 100 on Tuesday and this seems a perfect opportunity to highlight her poems, her paintings, her prose, and her life all week long. Here is a poem to begin the celebration!

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
I'm beginning the week with my favorite poem of Bishop's; perhaps this is my favorite poem of all time. The villanelle with the end rhyme of "master distaster" has helped me through more than one difficult experience in life. I've memorized this poem and imagine if I am ever imprisoned in solitary confinement, this poem will keep me sane. I've shared this poem with students and each time there is someone who falls in love with poetry, and someone else who needs this poem because they are nursing a bruised heart. Even if one's heart is singing, the poem retains its power: a kind of how-to manual for a fractured world.


  1. Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorite poets. I'm looking forward to more...

  2. Sorry I missed the chance to meet you in person at AWP... Thanks for this post. As it happens, I'll be teaching Bishop's "One Art" in my Art of Revision workshop on Tuesday. Wonderful coincidence!