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One Art

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

Lies and Deceit Theme

This poem is an exercise in self-deception. By casually dismissing all of her losses, the speaker attempts to deal with their emotional aftermath. That she’s writing it in the first place, however shows just how disturbed she actually is by this extensive catalogue of loss. The last stanza packs the hardest punch – we discover that she’s lost a loved one – but she tries her darnedest to brush it off just like the other losses mentioned earlier, by claiming casually that this loss, too, is "no disaster" (1.3). In the end, though, we see that all these things are, in fact, personal disasters.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. How honest is the poet here? Does she really advise us to take up the practice of the "art of losing?"
  2. What is the meaning of the change in the last appearance of the refrain, "the art of losing’s not too hard to master?"
  3. How, if at all, does the poet actually admit to her troubled feelings about these losses?
  4. What difference do you see between a literal interpretation of this poem and its emotional subtext?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The poet actively seeks to deceive both herself and her readers in "One Art."

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