art of losing

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, ‘One Art’

I am not a good poetry reader and usually am only able to appreciate it better when it rhymes. But recently, I came across two particular pieces from two different books that I was reading at the same time (Ali Smith’s Artful & Jeanette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal), that really spoke volumes to me and made me a much more appreciative reader of the art.

In Winterson’s memoir, poetry is described as the language that is powerful enough to say how it is, when life gets tough. For her, it was T.S Eliot who first gave a voice to her painful teenage years.

“When I read him that day, gales battering me within and without, I didn’t want consolation; I wanted expression. I wanted to find the place where I was hurt, to locate it exactly, and to give it a mouth. Pain is very often a maimed creature without a mouth. Through the agency of the poem that is powerful enough to clarifying feelings into facts, I am no longer dumb, not speechless, not lost. Language is a finding place, not a hiding place.”

Later on though, during another major low point in her life, it was Thomas Hardy’s poetry that came to the rescue.

Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrows dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon.

Never to bid goodbye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
Unmoved, unknowing
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.

(excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s, The Going)

After reading that piece of brilliance from Hardy, I have definitely found renewed interest and determination in reading more Hardy, both prose and poetry. I may well be a latecomer to the beautiful art of poetry, but I guess it’s better late than never.

And oh, just to share a bit of bookish serendipity, as I was reading the Winterson memoir, Ali Smith did pop by for lunch (in the book, of course!) and offered some helpful advice regarding the affairs of the heart to Winterson. Yeah, that was a nice surprise. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “The Art of Losing

  1. I often feel a bit angry with myself for not reading more poetry (or more philosophy, or essays for that matter).. But, honestly, I cannot help it – as long as I can remember stories were simply more appealing..
    However, I am trying to throw in a poem or two every once in a while. I have never read Hardy’s poetry, nor Bishop’s for that matter and these sound encouraging enough. 🙂

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    1. I have been collecting quite a few of Bishop’s volumes of correspondences and prose, but strangely it was never her poetry that interested me (although that was supposed to be what she does best!). This one of hers is the only proper one I’ve read so far, and I really like it. Yes, am encouraged to try more too. 😉

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