Study Guide

One Art Setting

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This is another of those thoughtful, intensely internal poems that doesn’t have a real setting (after all, we don’t know what Elizabeth Bishop’s mental landscape looked like, though it would be interesting to know!). However, every time we sit down and read "One Art," a certain, specific image comes to mind: the poet, who at this point wasn’t exactly a spring chicken, sits at home alone, reflecting upon the many places she’s traveled to and the many people she’s been with. Maybe she’s sitting in the kitchen, or perhaps in front of a fireplace, sipping a cup of tea and looking around at the knick-knacks and other debris that collects in everyone’s life as time goes by.

Instead of bringing back memories, though, this pensive moment reminds her of things that she’s lost. She tries to keep herself from getting bogged down by this sense of passage and loss by telling herself that none of it is as disastrous as it seems, but we can tell that her sadness, though buried, is still there at the core. There’s an interesting effect of, for lack of a better word, disorientation present here: she puts tiny, insignificant losses right up next to huge ones in her mind (and in her poem) and the overall effect contributes to the overwhelming buildup of lost objects. By the end of the poem, we want to sit right down in that kitchen with the poet, put the kettle on, and tell her it’ll be okay.

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