by Elizabeth Bishop
…Mercifully for you, I don’t know much about Elizabeth Bishop, so I can’t overload you with scholarly details like I usually love to. I know that she was friends with Robert Lowell, who was an insane alcoholic bipolar asshole — but who could also write stuff like this:
…Which is some pretty goddamn fucking beautiful shit. ANYWAY. So Elizabeth had lots of affairs, and lived for a while with some rich foreign dude in some foreign country (Brazil, possibly?). And that’s it; that’s all that I know about Elizabeth Bishop. Except that she wrote ‘One Art,’ the greatest fucking poem written in the history of the world.
‘The art of losing…” she writes…
‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master…’
So fucking beautiful. This poem really obliterates my abilities as any sort of literary critic. It puts me at a loss. What can I say besides “so beautiful”?
And she continues:
‘…Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
…I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.’
‘—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing isn’t hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.’
Such a perfect villanelle. …And for the record, I have no idea what my painting is meant to convey about this poem. I started painting it quickly, and then my landlady rushed me out of the apartment before I could really finish it. (Fucking landladies!)
I guess my painting was meant to convey the idea of… distance — distant lands, distant losses, with a river running through them; ever-flowing water which itself is time, and loss. (…I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster/ …two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.)
But anyway, we don’t need a painting in order to “get” Elizabeth Bishop’s poem. We all know; we all understand everything, everything that she’s saying already. Because what she’s saying is that all will be lost; all beauty and life and love — and but also and very importantly, losing all that stuff is just… fine. It’s the only way that it can be.
As the philosopher and poet Louis C.K. once pointed out… even if you have the perfect life and meet the perfect boy or girl and get married and live until you’re ninety and both expire at the exact same second; still, that’ll suck, because it’ll still all end. But that’s okay. That’s the best that life can be. And that’s all just fine.
…It’s the losses that give everything meaning. Without loss — without the sensation of on-rushing, or at least faintly inevitable doom — then everything would just go on and on forever. And where’s the fun in that? And how could you truly appreciate your true love, your true beauty, if it never stopped — if it just kept going, it would lose all meaning, would settle into nothingness, in the desert, the void, the wasteland of unending time; or whatever metaphor works best for you, really.
Things do end. We all lose things in time. And that’s A-okay, is as it’s meant to be. …And so… the art of losing isn’t hard to master; even thought it may look like — write it — like disaster.
The sadness of this is a part of a larger argument that the heart has with itself. Would you rather feel intense love for things, knowing that you’ll lose them in time? Or would you rather feel… nothing — and thus never get hurt?
It’s a question of the heart, a question that only the heart can answer, though sometimes, we get confused. …And so, here’s a quote from an entirely different Bishop poem–
…Feeling, or not-feeling? Loss or non-loss? It’s a question our heart asks, but our heart can only speak in one voice — and so it becomes impossible to tell which part of us is arguing for what, and what is right, and what is wrong. …It’s a question with no answer. And that’s all. I can’t think of anything else to say, beyond what today’s genius poet has said. And so — goodbye, the end, finis.