Words to live by: Elizabeth Bishop

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 maybe look like (Write it!) like disaster.

-Elizabeth Bishop

While I do agree with Elizabeth that the art of losing isn’t hard to master, the art of losing gracefully is something else entirely.  I love this poem, the February 8th selection in my A Poem a Day anthology, because it hits at the heart of one of the core elements of simplicity- letting go.  It is a truly spiritual practice, learning to let go of both the physical objects that clutter one’s life, and the psychic weights that hold us down.  This is where the need for grace comes in, and where I part ways with Elizabeth’s philosophy of this poem.  One can lose things for certain, they can fly away accidentally or be wrestled away, grasping until the last possible moment.  However, responding to that loss without attachment is much more difficult, and I would argue the true art of the title of Elizabeth’s poem.

How can we learn to let go with grace?  The art and practice of simplicity allows us to distill (often quite slowly) our lives down to the core elements that make up fulfillment, contentment, joy, peace.  But getting there is often a harsh process, and learning to respond to loss, both voluntary and involuntary, is an art that takes years if not lifetimes of practice.


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