Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art” is a villanelle about coping with the loss of a loved one. It is probably my favorite out of the group of poems for this week, just for the style. Villanelles are an entirely new style of poetry for me, and I love them because they sound like lyrics just waiting to be put to music. I particularly enjoy “One Art” because I can picture it as a heartbreaking ballad in a musical.
“One Art” flows like the songs of those beautifully flawed characters in almost every musical I’ve ever seen. It starts almost innocuously, with Bishop talking about losing small things in order to “master” the “art of [loss].” From the beginning stanza, the reader knows that Bishop is discussing loss for a reason, that she is probably building up to a big realization about the loss of someone or something important in her life, but they don’t know for sure. She transitions to “practice losing farther, losing faster,” and mentions losing “cities,” “rivers,” and entire “continent[s],” before finally moving into the final stanza, which starts “-Even losing you.” That one line is like that brilliant lyric that appears in my favorite heartbreaking ballads, where the viewer realizes that the character has been covering up some terrible loss for the entire show. “One Art” brings to mind songs like “Time” from Tuck Everlasting, “How Could I Ever Forget” from Next to Normal, “You Learn to Live Without” from If/Then, “Without You” from Rent, and so many others.