Study Guide

One Art Quotes

  • Transience

    so many things seem filled with the intent
    to be lost that their loss is no disaster. (1.2-3)

    The implication here is that many things are destined to be lost, and even actively will their own loss; the speaker isn’t in control of what comes and goes in her life.

    Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
    of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. (2.4-5)

    This odd command suggests that loss is a permanent state of unsettledness, and that only by accepting its inevitability can we learn to cope with it.

    Then practice losing farther, losing faster (3.7)

    The expansion of this idea of the "art of losing" into the abstract begins in this line. The poem gains momentum as the poet loses things of greater and greater value, increasing our sense of instability and change.

    I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
    some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. (5.13-14)

    The idea of losing concrete geographical points further destabilizes our view of the poet’s world; her map is actually changing as she loses more and more.

  • Memory and the Past

    Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
    places, names, and where it was you meant
    to travel. (3.7-9)

    Here, loss is re-defined not only as the loss of objects or even time, but of memory itself.

    I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. (4.10-11)

    These curious statements lead us to wonder what significance these objects, which are no longer random, but rather very specific, have for the poet.

    I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. (5.15)

    We’re not sure how the poet lost these places; if she misses them, does that mean she still remembers them? Why might they be inaccessible to her?

    – Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
    I love) I shan’t have lied. (6.16-17)

    For the first time, we see specific things mentioned that the poet remembers and cherishes, implying that she hasn’t really gotten over this loss – nor has she fully mastered the art of losing.

  • Sadness

    The art of losing isn’t hard to master (1.1, 2.6, 4.12)

    This confident, if rather odd, statement immediately covers up any emotion that "losing" might create in the poet.

    I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. (5.15)

    Though the poet admits here that she misses the places she loved and lost, she is still reluctant to say that any loss is disastrous; instead, she is resigned to the continual loss of things she loves.

    It’s evident
    The art of losing’s not too hard to master
    Though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. (6.17-19)

    This breakdown in the familiar structure of both refrains finally betrays the poet’s real feelings – the loss of the loved one addressed here forces her to admit that some losses really do look and feel like disaster. The parenthetical command to "Write it!" shows us her own reluctance to admit to these feelings here.

  • Love

    I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
    next-to-last of three loved houses went. (4.10-11)

    These losses introduce the notion of loved or precious things, and make us wonder about their impact on the poet’s life.

    – Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
    I love) I shan’t have lied. (6.16-17)

    The narrator never comes out and says that she loved the person addressed here, only "a gesture," yet another coping mechanism for her loss.

  • Lies and Deceit

    The art of losing isn’t hard to master (1.1, 2.6, 4.12)

    This line loses its truthfulness slowly as the poem proceeds, and we see that the art of losing is, in fact, quite difficult, if not impossible, to master.

    – Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
    I love) I shan’t have lied. (6.16-17)

    The poet attempts to assert the truth of her claim here, saying that her ability to get over the loss of the beloved person addressed here proves that she’s mastered the art of losing.

    The art of losing’s not too hard to master (6.18)

    Finally, the poet concedes that she’s been somewhat deceptive – the art of losing, she admits, is hard to master, albeit not too hard.