by Elizabeth Bishop
One Art Theme of Memory and the Past
The many things that the poet loses in "One Art" aren’t just concrete objects, like house keys or watches; rather, they grow more and more abstract, ranging from misspent hours to a lost loved one. In the world of the poem, memory isn’t something permanent or reliable, and our pasts are subject to the same possibility of loss as our possessions. The memory of past acquaintances and experiences can be dropped by the wayside as easily as any misplaced doodad, and though Bishop treats all of her losses here with the same offhand, casual tone, we recognize the deep anxiety behind its cavalier façade.
Questions About Memory and the Past
- What, in your opinion, is the relationship of loss to forgetting things?
- If not disaster, what does the loss of one’s past bring?
- The poet says that she misses some of these lost objects – which is to say that she remembers them. How significant are these memories in the light of the loss?
Chew on This
The only way to truly cope with the past is to document it, as evidenced by the final line of the poem.