Brenda Saldanha Melo SILVA
em Liberal Studies
University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG)
Graduada em Letras-Inglês pela (UFMG)
ABSTRACT: To master. According to the The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms, to “be or become completely proficient or skilled in; to deal with successfully,” or to “have a firm understanding or knowledge (...).” Most people manage to master several skills throughout their lives. An art, however, or “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance” (Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)) is considered to be mastered by few. This article aims at analyzing the way Elizabeth Bishop have certainly mastered the art of poetry, and in her poem “One art”, she uses such an art to discuss another one, which she calls the “art of losing”.
KEYWORDS: Elizabeth Bishop. Art of Losing. “One Art”.
RESUMO: Dominar. De acordo com o dicionário The American Heritage ® de Idiomas, ter domínio significa “ser ou tornar-se completamente proficiente ou especialista; lidar com sucesso”, ou “possuir uma grande compreensão ou conhecimento (...)”. A maioria das pessoas consegue dominar várias habilidades ao longo de suas vidas. Uma arte, no entanto, ou “a qualidade, produção, expressão ou domínio, de acordo com princípios estéticos, do que é belo, atraente, ou do que é mais do que um significado comum” (Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)) parece ser dominada por poucos. Este artigo tem por objetivo analisar a forma como Elizabeth Bishop certamente domina a arte da poesia. Em seu poema "Uma arte", Bishop usa tal arte para discutir um outro tipo de arte, que a autora chama de “a arte da perda”.
PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Elizabeth Bishop. A arte da perda. “One Art”.
the art of losing isn’t hard to master;So many things seem filled with the intentto be lost that their lost is no disaster.(Roberts and Jocobs)
To master. According to the The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms, to “be or become completely proficient or skilled in; to deal with successfully,” or to “have a firm understanding or knowledge (...).” Most people manage to master several skills throughout their lives. An art, however, or “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance” (Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)) is considered to be mastered by few. Elizabeth Bishop can be said to have certainly mastered the art of poetry, and in her poem “One art”, she uses such an art to discuss another one, which she calls the “art of losing”.
But what exactly would this “art of losing” be and why would it be something to be mastered? It is arguably true that the very act of losing is accidental by definition. You misplace something and then cannot find it, you forget something somewhere, or it falls off your bag and you do not see it. Thus, how can Bishop argue that it is actually possible to master loss?
Bishop had a far from ordinary life. Of Canadian decent, her father died when she was only eight years old, and her mother would have several break downs, finally being institutionalized permanently when Bishop was five. She was then taken to
to live with her grandparents. A
year later, however, she was taken back to Nova Scotia to live with her paternal
grandparents, where she was constantly ill. Later in life, she would move to Massachusetts New York, then travel to Europe,
where her love for exotic places would begin. She would also go to Mexico, and
later, Brazil, where she spent several years, considered to be the “happiest and most settled
period of Bishop's life, and her companion” Lota de Macedo Soares “was
instrumental in getting her to seek help for — and to achieve some control over
— her alcoholism, her asthma, and her chronic depression” (KENNEDY and GIOIA).
Bishop lived with Lota in the mountains near Rio de Janeiro,
but fled Brazil and returned
Lota committed suicide. Bishop lived in Boston
till her death in 1979 (COSTELLO, p. 128). Boston
Looking at her life, it is possible to start making some sense of the concept she proposes in “One Art” towards the mastery of loss. Bishop went through a lot and certainly survived all sorts of minor and major losses in her life. It is likely that in the poem, she not only wants to show that she can overcome loss, but that overcoming the losses was a survival necessity for her. Being able to master the losses around her, being able to deal with such losses is the real art she longs to master – it is a philosophy of survival, “an expression of what Bishop desperately wants to be true” (SIRCY, 2005, p. 241).
In an attempt to tell herself that losses are natural, Bishop goes one step further in “One Art”, stating that not only losses are accidental, but they are meant to be. “Things are filled with the intent to be lost” so why should we not accept it naturally and easily? By thinking like this, it becomes easier to accept the loss of something as less of a disaster and more of a natural part of life. And that is a conclusion she both tells the readers and herself – she wants to believe in it. Her philosophy of survival becomes based in the thought that “if we are used to dealing with loss, we can learn to accept it; acceptance is the prevention of disaster (… ) the art of losing, then, is the art of survival” (Schwartz and Estess, 1992, p. 150).
From the beginning to the end of the poem a gradation of size and importance in the examples stated by Bishop can be observed,
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
Of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
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. (…)
(Roberts and Jocobs, p. 858)
From trivial door keys, to houses, to continents, to a person. She lists such things based on her own life experience, her own losses, but they are all carefully chosen in an attempt to “stress the homogenous nature of loss. Whether it be the “fluster of losing (…) ‘door keys’ or losing something as vast as ‘a continent,’ both are ultimately, Bishop argues, the same ‘one art’” (SIRCY, 2005, p. 241). Denying the differences between such elements, classifying them as all belonging to the same group, allows Bishop to make sense of the acceptance of those which may seem harder to overcome, such as a loss of a beloved one (SIRCY, 2005, p. 241).
Once one masters the “art of losing”, or the art of surviving loss, a certain level of control over the unpredictability of life is gained. If one can control his feelings, he is much more in control of what happens in his life, or at least feels he is. Control is, therefore, also something that appears to be central to this poem. Bishop longs to have more control over such a chaotic life she seemed to have. Always struggling with her asthma, and alcoholism, along with other unwanted changes in her life, Bishop must have been affected by the lack of control over the world around her, and translated that into her poetry.
This effort to obtain control, to master, can also be said to be embedded in the form Bishop chose to write this poem: a villanelle, one of the most difficult and structured forms of poetry. According to Susan McCabe, “the formal demands of the villanelle keep ‘squads of undisciplined emotion’ from overwhelming the poem” (McCABE, 1994, p. 26). A more loosely and free formed form of poem, with more usage of personal expression, would have been much more intimate (McCABE, 1994, p. 26), possibly not expressing the controlling massage of mastery Bishop wanted to convey. Thus, the very form of “One Art” seems to express a will to control all the emotions related to her losses.
- 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
(Roberts and Jocobs, p. 858)
The last stanza of this villanelle brings a final twist. The poet reveals a change in her own philosophy. Although she seems so certain of “the art of losing”, as being not hard to master on the five previous stanzas, she contradicts herself in the last one, confessing she does find it hard, and changing her sentence to “not too hard to master”. She still wants to believe she has control over this art, but here the reader sees a sign that though she might have overcome the loss of all the other things, losing her love was so difficult for her, that she starts to doubt she can really master this one loss. The art of losing is a struggle of several different levels, but this one, for Bishop, seems to have weakened her beyond the point her philosophy of survival can help.
Finally, “One Art” is a poem about the one art that we live our lives wondering whether we will ever be able to, as the poem says, master, and have control of: the art of losing. Not only Bishop shows the reader that loss is something possible to be mastered, but she also shows that it is primordial that anyone learns to master it. The “art of losing”, therefore, is not actually the act of losing things, places or people, but the act of moving on regardless of whatever losses we may face in life. Through the use of her own memories and life events, Bishop manages to relate to all readers easily, as she tells them it is ok to lose something. She goes as far as encouraging them to do so, “Lose something every day/ (…) Then practice losing farther, losing faster” (Roberts and Jocobs, p. 858) as a means to show that mastering loss, and surviving the mourning feeling of such losses is not only possible but necessary for life, and the more one does it, the less it will hurt them – the less it will feel like disaster.
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