Study Guide

One Art Speaker

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The speaker in "One Art" isn’t new to the troubles of life and love; she’s been around the block a few times, and probably feels like she’s seen it all. Perhaps we’ve been unduly influenced by real-life photos of Elizabeth Bishop, but we imagine her as a comfortable-looking, white-haired lady with kind eyes and a gentle smile, kind of like someone’s worldly and wise grandma. Maybe she was a little wild in her youth, but now, she’s aged gracefully into someone calm and composed.

We know that the speaker well traveled and has lived in her share of different places, and we can imagine that she’s probably loved her share of people, too. Her experience has taught her that no matter how terrible a loss seems, people always survive, and the lesson she attempts to teach her readers (and herself) in this poem echoes that idea. The Zen-like mantra repeated throughout the poem, "The art of losing isn’t hard to master" (1.1), urges us to get used to the idea of loss, and to accept that some things just can’t stay. Underneath this placidly resigned surface, however, we get the feeling that this speaker still feels each loss profoundly.

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