Bishop creates tension with her lines, punctuation and rhyme. Considering the content on the poem One Art, I think that the formal form (played with) works to the poet’s advantage.
‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master’ shows up three times with punctuation: once with a semi colon at the beginning as the poem (as the first line) indicating that it’s separate but associated with what will come after, once with a period at the end of a stanza. The second repetition is setting up a mantra almost. Bishop brings a finality with the line and the though. In the stanza she’s discussing material, small ‘things’ that we might actually lose, like physically cannot find. In the third stanza, the line ends again with a period and while the items lost are closer to the poet’s emotional center, they are still physical entries. At the end of the poem, ‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master’ becomes ‘the art of losing’s not too hard to master’ with no ending punctuation to separate it from the idea before to the disaster that will inevitably come after. Bishop’s pattern of change and emphasis is followed with her ‘to be lost that their loss is no disaster’ line as well, though she did perform more variance of the wording of the second line. It changed from the original to ‘None of these will bring disaster / I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.’ and ‘though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.’
The poem presents the reader with lots of ‘L’s, dragging along the idea of losing, and losing big time. The consonant is repeated seven times in the closing along. The lolling of the minds tongue while reading ‘L’s gives a sort of bouncing, fun, carefree feeling to content that would otherwise be frustrating and near heart breaking to consider. Bishop also breaks up what could easily become monotonous with all the ‘er’ sounds by fluctuating the in between lines. Such as ‘fluster’ and ‘my last, or’ and ‘gesture.’ I’s and O’s bump into each other all over the lines as well. The ‘I’ sounds are all the weaker, support sound, unless the author is discussing herself until she gets to the last line with ‘Write.’ If the italics didn’t give away how important the word and what it presents is, the fact that the ‘I’ sound in write is the only one that is equal to, or greater, than the author when she speakers of herself should. The ‘O’s are the middling of losing, the hole that’s left where something should be, as well as a connector, a tunnels, that can be traversed to reach the bouncy, happy little lovable lopsided ‘L.’
Sarah Ockershausen Delp
–From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel.