Monday, March 07, 2005


I fear to love you, Sweet, because
Love's the ambassador of loss.

Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

Loss is a part of the human experience. We lose things, time, and money. We lose friends and people we love. We lose happiness, joy, and even hope. Sometimes we think we're losing our minds. Ultimately, we will lose our bodies when they pass away and join the earth's soil.

In Western culture, we try very hard to avoid loss, the same way we try to avoid pain or thoughts of death. Loss is seen as a negative experience, even a negative word. Loss is difficult, and often painful, but inevitable. How do we come to grips with that?

In the following poem by Elizabeth Bishop, the speaker describes her experience with loss and how she claims to deal with it:

One Art

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.

Elizabeth Bishop

The "art" of losing, the speaker calls it; something to pay attention to, to think about and analyze and not to ignore. Paying attention to loss--feeling its full emotional effects and taking the time to process it--sounds very wise to me. It is important to feel and process any kind of pain so we don't get stuck in it.

But, somehow, I feel the speaker is not quite being honest. Maybe it's the cavalier way she tries to deny the importance of losing significant things, like "continents" and "realms." "Even losing you," she states, insinuating that the loss of her love is the greatest loss on her list. Not "disasters," perhaps, but I feel a hestitancy in the speaker to claim the experience of loss, the pain of it, even perhaps the agony of losing her love. To state that the loss hurts would make her feel too vulnerable, and she is not willing to let on that her former lover had that much effect on her.

What about the "Write it" phrase? What do you think? Does Bishop's poem resonate with any experience of loss you have had? How does poetry or another kind of art help you process loss?


Danny Sillada said...

Hi There,

You have a very nice blog and a very interesting topic on "Loss".

I just had my lowest moments, the very extreme one, that I had to get over with in time... My loss is indescribable that it has left an indelible mark on my soul.

I recently posted one my revealing personal essays on loss titled "The Distances of Everything" at If you have time, please visit the site because it is my own experience of "loss".

I have also poems that deal with loss -the death of my friend and my two siblings to suicide at different time and circumstances at

I enjoyed reading your blog and the poem of Elizabeth Bishop.

Best regards,


Danny Sillada said...

I am sorry for posting another one.

I just want to say, happy International Women's Day. I have a tribute to women on my art review on a Filipina_Italian artist. Although it was written about her art, but it was also written for women in general with my haiku poem in every picture of painting by the artist.

You can click my name below to go to the site.

Thanks and more power.


PoeticMermaid said...

Amy, it's interesting that you find her dishonest. I see it as a person trying to use their art as affirmation. You can't hold on to anything, so why not let it go? Of course, this is easier said than done. I often use writing to tell myself what I want to believe, what I believe to be the truth. When I'm rooted in fear and sadness, as we all are in various moments, it's harder to believe.

Ecks Ridgehead said...

This was a very well-written post, and it really got me thinking. Thanks!

Why not drop by The Ridge?

Amy said...

Yes, PoeticMermaid, perhaps saying that the speaker is "not being quite honest" is too harsh. I don't think the speaker has any intention to deceive anyone. I don't believe she is lying.

Perhaps you are right that she is using these words as some kind of affirmation. But I feel that the purpose of the phrase "Write it!" in the last line is to illustrate her coming to terms with the fact that it is a disaster that she has lost her love. It is painful, and she has not, in fact, mastered it. She cannot move on as easily as she leads us to believe earlier in the poem.