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One Art. Elizabeth Bishop. Pre-reading. Which possession’s loss would upset you the most? What is one thing which you consider to be art?. First Responses. Choose a number between one and thirty. Sum up your initial impressions of this poem, using exactly that number of words. . Form.

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one art

One Art

Elizabeth Bishop

pre reading
  • Which possession’s loss would upset you the most?
  • What is one thing which you consider to be art?
first responses
First Responses
  • Choose a number between one and thirty.
  • Sum up your initial impressions of this poem, using exactly that number of words.
  • This poem follows a vervillanelley particular form. It is the structure of a.
  • From studying the poem, try to identify several features of a villanelle’s form.
  • E.g Limerick- a five-line poem written with one couplet and one triplet. If a couplet is a two-line rhymed poem, then a triplet would be a three-line rhymed poem. The rhyme pattern is a a b b a with lines 1, 2 and 5 containing 3 beats and rhyming, and lines 3 and 4 having two beats and rhyming.

The lines are grouped into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. Thus a Villanelle has 19 lines.

  • The Villanelle has two rhymes. The rhyme scheme is aba, with the same end-rhyme for every first and last line of each tercet and the final two lines of the quatrain.
  • Two of the lines are repeated: The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and the fourth stanzas, and as the second-to-last line in the concluding quatrain.
  • The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and the fifth stanzas, and as the last line in the concluding quatrain.

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.

Feminine rhyme (rhyme of more than one syllable) gives the poem pace and makes it seem light-hearted.


Art- unusual word choice, suggesting skill

  • Isn’t- colloquial, helping to convey a relaxed attitude.
  • So many- an exaggerated number, which reduces the importance of individual losses.
  • Things- vague word choice, which reinforces the sense that what has been lost is of little importance.
  • No disaster- very definite, suggesting someone who is in full control

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

The first two sentences do not contain subjects. This helps to continue the poem’s informal tone. It also depersonalises the subject matter.


Something- indefinite / vague

  • Every day- frequency of loss makes it seem unimportant.
  • Lost door keys- symbol of place / home
  • The hour badly spent- symbol of time

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

  • The pace of the poem picks up in this stanza, creating an almost frenzied tone. The use of repetition, internal rhyme, enjambment and polysyndetic all contribute to this.

Internal rhyme- rhyming words within a line, rather than at the end of lines.

  • Enjambment- a line of verse that flows on to the next line without pause.
  • Polysndetic – The joining of words in a list with ‘and’ between each of the items.

Places- Many of the losses in the poem are concerned with place. The other two main types of loss are people and time.

where it was you meant to travel- memories that fade?

None- very definite.


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.

The poem becomes much more personal /emotional in this stanza. There is the first use of a personal pronoun. However, the feminine rhyme helps to maintain a light, humorous tone.


my mother's watch- an heirloom, her mother’s protection or even her mother?

  • And look! my last- use of exclamation mark in middle of sentence suggest an interjection of emotion.
  • three loved houses went- much greater emotional attachment suggested here. These houses were homes and everything associated with them.

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.

It becomes clear in this stanza that the lost items are not to be taken literally. They become increasingly exaggerated and absurd.


- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gestureI 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.

  • The tone is deadly serious for the first time in the poem. Everything suggest someone struggling to restrain their emotions.

- Even losing you – The dash creates an abrupt break- indicating a significant change from the rest of the poem. The word choice of ‘even’ signals that this is the most important loss.

  • (the joking voice, a gesture I love)- parentheses and enjambment make these details seem unimportant, almost like an afterthought. Yet they are the small details which convey her memories of this lost loved one- a lover perhaps?

The art of losing's not too hard to master.

  • Variation of the first line of first stanza 9 the poem’s refrain). The speaker’s conviction regarding her ability to master ‘the art of losing’ has weakened.
  • (Write it!)- in this parenthesis, the poet seems to be forcing herself to write ‘disaster’. The memories of losing ‘you’ are almost too much, they almost prevent her writing.