The Poetry Of Elizabeth Bishop

A look at the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "For it is not meters, but a meter making argument that makes a poem." I agree. And disagree. Contemporary society likes to focus on what is being said; however, HOW something is said produces the message that is inferred by the audience. The form of Elizabeth Bishop's poem "One Art" illuminates the message that losing things is difficult.

To completely understand or enjoy a poem, one has no choice but to look at the poet's form""including meter. However, Emerson also said, "[America] will not wait long for meters," which suggests that meter often goes unconsciously unnoticed among readers of contemporary American poetry. The average reader would probably not recognize or fully comprehend that Bishop's poem is written in imperfect but regular iambic pentameter, alternating ten and eleven syllables per line. Compared with poets like E.E. Cummings, whose form is typically exotic or unusual, Bishop's is more conservative. This suggests that her topic is somewhat serious.

Unconsciously, the meter and rhyme scheme add appeal to any poem by creating rhythm. "One Art" consists of ABA rhyme scheme""the A lines having eleven syllables and the B lines having ten syllables each. The rhyming definitely appeals to the ear and may make the poem seem jovial, as rhyming sometimes does; thus, seemingly taking away from the poem's seriousness. But, like a boy protecting his ego by lying about his true feelings, Bishop, through rhyming, implies a tone that is opposite the one she means. "Losing" things is not funny or a joking matter""it is usually a serious topic""but Bishop uses end rhyme (especially ABAB which tends to produce more of a sing-songy connotation) as irony for the seriousness of loss.

Irony also plays into the actual wording of the poem. "One Art" literally claims that losing things is an art, something that is extolled, and that the lost items may appear to be a disaster, but are not. Bishop seems to be saying that we lose things too often to get too upset by it. The line "the art of losing isn't hard to master" displays how Bishop says something, but means the opposite. She may have used this approach to decrease the heaviness of the topic but to still express it in writing. Some form of this refrain, as well as variations of the third line in the poem, "their loss is no disaster," are repeated throughout the poem. Remembering that Bishop is using irony to convey her message, these lines are highly effective at stating her meaning.

Like prose writers separate pieces of their message into paragraphs, with transitions to allow each to flow into the next, Bishop, as a poet, separated her ideas into five stanzas of three lines each and then a final stanza of four lines. The repetition of the line "the art of losing isn't hard to master" acts as a transition throughout the stanzas, linking them together and voicing an overall theme for the poem. The theme of the poem is also implied by the repetition of the word "disaster" and various forms of the word "lost": lost, loss, lose, and losing.

Each of the six stanzas is a different section of the poem that portrays subtle differences to the same message. Each stanza describes a more personal item than the stanza before. However, Bishop's point in the poem is that from the little things to the bigger things, it is still difficult to have lost something. The pain will be greater the further her poem goes, but it is still painful. She begins the poem with very vague examples ("so many things") and leads up to the climax of the poem in the final lines. The second stanza includes references to keys and time: things that are a burden to lose but are not extremely devastating. The third paragraph deals with names of places visited and names of people you meet. It is not extremely painful to lose these things, but it makes a person feel uncomfortable. The forth stanza is a little more personal, talking about an heirloom and houses that have been lived in. The next section talks about familiar cities and cherished parts of nature. And by placing the example of losing a person in the last stanza, Bishop is suggesting that this is the hardest thing to lose. The pain involved in losing a person is so much that Bishop advises the reader to "Write it!," as a way to cope with the loss.

The number of lines and stanzas, repeated lines and ideas, rhyme scheme, and meter make this poem a villanelle. The refrains that are repeated in lines 1,6,12,18 and 3,9,15,19 enforce the message that losing something is a hardship. The sections created by Bishop in each of the stanzas reveal that some things are more difficult to lose than others. The form of this villanelle, "One Art," provides a framework to communicate Elizabeth Bishop's desired expression for the hardship of loss.

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