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In “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop an attitude is expressed in the first 15 lines that emphasizes the effect of the last 4 lines. The overall attitude can be best described as pessimistic. She shows this pessimism by writing in a loose villanelle form. Language also contributes to the overall attitude of this poem. These two techniques help contribute to a reader’s understanding of the attitudes expressed.
By writing this poem in a villanelle form Elizabeth Bishop emphasizes her optimistic, happy go lucky views in the first 15 lines. She repeats the lines “losing isn’t hard to master” and roughly “was not a disaster” in lines 1,3,6,9,12,18 and 19. This repetition strengthens her point and allows her to talk optimistically at first, then turn her own words around in the last stanza which overall drives the point home. It allows emphasis on the main idea that while losing things is easy to do, it can end up ruining you. Lines 1-15 flow easily and can be described as most optimistic, however it takes a turn for the opposite when Bishop must force herself to “write it”. Her views that losing things will not ruin you becomes forced.
Language contributes a deeper understanding of the poem as well. Bishop’s words have been carefully chosen to emphasis the initial optimism she feels, and ultimately her real opinions on the subject. In lines 1-6 she deliberately chooses things that would be trivial to lose such as keys and then progresses on to things that would be much more influential and intimidating to lose such as heirlooms and moving to a new city. She does not express it as having the ability to cripple her. From lines 13-15, she describes what many of us would find devastating, moving far away from home. Yet she is still not considering it a disaster. Using these examples of things that people would find upsetting strengthens the contrast that appears in the last stanza when something that is all too familiar to us and is universally hurtful is described. She is struggling over her own hurt and must force herself to write that it is not hurtful to her in either to reassure her.
An extended metaphor is used to describe losing things as being like an art form or a skill that is learned. As one “practices losing farther, losing faster” they begin to lose more and more valuable things in their life. These losses will not end your life, but they can be extremely hurtful and may spell out chaos and disaster which threatens your wellbeing.
The verse form in which it is written emphasizes the most important lines, with repetition the ideas are repeated to gather momentum. This strengthens her attitude and feelings on the subject. A careful choice of words and placement of ideas brings in contrast to the poem. Optimism can be found in unusual circumstances and while life’s setbacks don’t necessarily spell out disaster, there’s often an untold story that does hurt us deep down.
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