The Art of Losing

The Art of losing. Is loss an art? Is it possible to learn how to lose? As we grow older, our hearts harden. Call it wisdom, call it cruelty, call it age, whatever you call it, it feels inevitable that as we become accustomed to loss, we learn to navigate the world under the premise that all is eventually lost. Perhaps I am a pessimist. Perhaps I was born an optimist, and learned to master pessimism. I am not sure. All I know is that this human condition still confuses me.

Last night, I watched a film called ‘Reaching for the Moon.’ It tells the story of the poet Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop has always been a bit vague in terms of her sexuality, her love affairs, etc. But this film was very well-written, beautifully performed, and the portrayal of Bishop’s complex love affair is presented as having colored her writing. I was extremely touched by the performance, especially the recital of her poem ‘One Art.’  I won’t summarize the plot of the film, but I will insist that it is intense. Below is the poem, but it must be read out loud or listened to, to do it justice:

One Art: by Elizabeth Bishop
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.
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 my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
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’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

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