Hey Lou Writes

The Grey Matters

One Art {aka The Art of Losing}

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Today I want to share with you my favorite poem. Not just my today it’s my favorite or one of my favorites, but my true, kindred spirit, love of my life poem. I had to read it in my American Literature class a few years ago when I was still in college. It was life changing. Not only does this poem point out our trivial wants and needs, but it also points out what truly matters in life. What could possibly break us, if we let it, and why sometimes losing something is our own fault… or completely out of our control.

~~~

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 a disaster.

~~~

I get chills when I see the (Write it!) and I feel as though I should look around for a pencil and write down everything I have lost. This poet, Elizabeth Bishop, had a hard life. Her father died when she was a baby and her mother was “institutionalized.”( Given that time period, ~ 1916, it was a touchy thing… the “hysteria” of women. Gives me the chills to think of what her mother went through.) We’ll never know what exactly happened to Elizabeth’s mother, but we know enough already to see that her childhood wasn’t exactly normal. She lived with different grandparents and always remarked upon her life with a dark tone. “I’ve never concealed it,” she wrote, “although I don’t like to make too much of it. But of course it is an important fact, to me. I didn’t see her again.” How… sad.

The beginning of this poem makes me laugh at myself. We’ve all lost our car keys. We lose items, as well as time, when we go looking for them. Do car keys get lost intentionally? No, they’re not alive. But losing them has never been a disaster in and of itself. (Except for when I made it the 35+ minute car drive to work, and Greg called me, saying that the other set of keys must be in the console to the car I was driving… and I had to drive all the way back home, then back to work. At the moment, I was feeling pretty disastrous.)

I already feel as though I’ve lost certain aspects of my life. Memories that slip away of where I’ve been or who I’ve known. My life goes on, there is no disaster there. If I really try, I could probably recall such things. They’re only lost to my everyday life.

To Elizabeth, losing her mother’s watch might have been a disaster. Imagine your mother being taken away at the young age of five, and having only a few items of hers left. (Maybe she feels that her mother was one of the things “seemed filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” But that’s just me, speculating almost 100 years later…)

For those of you who have traveled to another continent, I wonder if you would especially connect with the idea: “…vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.” I haven’t traveled all that far, but this is how I feel when I think of the river I used to see at camp every summer in Colorado. I loved the camp, the people there, the green mountains, but I most often find myself remembering the flowing river. I would sit beside it during our morning “quiet time” simply because it was the loudest place. I felt hidden. So much happened there, as far as the inner workings of my brain and heart were concerned (all during the tender ages of 8-15.)

And finally, we get to the personal, human to human part of this poem. I love it and it makes my heart so heavy. Who did Elizabeth lose? Who had the joking voice and the gesture? She wrote it for me. And you. She wrote this poem for anyone who ever dared to read it. I truly believe that.

Because to be human means to lose things every day. They may be big or small. We can’t keep track of everyone or everything. Memories slip away, moments are lost before anything worth remembering has a chance to happen, and most importantly, people slip away from us. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. My sister once wrote a song that said, “Nobody’s happy at no one’s expense.” Do you understand how profound that statement is? It rocked my world. Each time something good happens, chances are, it was at the expense of someone else. This might sound like a terribly negative way to view the world, but I think it’s fundamentally true. Think about it. When you got that job promotion, yay for you, sad for whoever was the runner up. When you got married, your life changed for the better, but someone out there may have once believed him to be their true love. If you were to list all of the factors that make you happy, I’m sure that at least half will fit the bill. Nobody’s happy at no one’s expense. 

Which isn’t to say that you don’t deserve that happiness! We do! It’s simply one of those facts of life, like a revolving door, that good things happen, bad things happen, people are happy, people are sad, and the majority of people get on with their lives.

We all lose someone along the line. Whether that cause is a death, a lost love, or a big mistake… we all have a story. Most of these resonate with people on a personal level. I know I have been in jeopardy of losing the most important people in my life. Sometimes we are blind to just how important they are. Remember to cherish the ones who love you back. (I hear Hanson in my head… “So hold on to the ones who really care, cause in the end they’ll be the only ones there… MmmBop)

Just make sure that the one you are keeping is worth more than the one you are letting slip away. If it’s right, do all you can to find something, even if it desperately wants to get lost. It could be a disaster. Elizabeth- it could be a disaster, and I think you agree. {And you certainly got me to (Write it!)}

It’s been a long day and obviously, my mind is in overdrive. I think I’ll go do these three things:

Tell Greg how thankful I am that we are 6 years in (3 and a half years married) and growing stronger every day. I won’t let that get away. Ever.

Make more tea, because I have been sick all day long.

Try to get more organized so I don’t LOSE anymore TIME trying to find my car keys.

<3 Lou

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Author: Melinda Haas

I write, I read, I love to laugh. God, my husband, and my step children make up my world. I am working on publishing many novels, three of which are completed manuscripts.

6 thoughts on “One Art {aka The Art of Losing}

  1. Wondering if her Mother might have said something like “I slowly began losing my mind then lost it faster until I never knew it was gone so it was no disaster.”

  2. Great and powerful poem! Thanks for sharing. I am so sad about her watch after hearing what happened to her mother… Thank you for the great reminder to always be grateful for what we haven’t yet lost.

  3. Well, I love this. As I seem to love all your posts. I’m so glad I chanced to hop over to your lovely blog! You write what I feel and make it sound a lot more sophisticated.

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