It’s inevitable.  It’s part of life. It doesn’t get any easier. Loss piled upon loss probably can become too much for some people.

After putting up the previous post about my poor ole sweet dogs and parrot, Eddie, Booger and Elvis, I  stared for several minutes at the mandala I made out of Eddie’s face in one of his more serene moments. I deliberately did it in black and white;  the stark facts were what I was after, and how to deal with them.  It wasn’t just about a dog; it was at the time, for me, about everything.

By hook and by crook, I think I succeeded in finding what I needed to find. Yes.  I am convinced there is transcendence, acceptance and peace, if we stop sit still long enough and listen and look.

But here is a “famous” poem about the subject by one of the greatest American poets of the 20th Century, Elizabeth Bishop.

In this poem she is struggling with the common human pain we all share, perhaps (I think so) even with the animals.  Literature and art serve us so well in coming to terms with the terms of our existence.  They are divine, surely,  royal spiritual gifts that get us through.  Note the tonal changes and modulations in the poem as it progresses as she deals in ordinary language with anxiety, anguish, grasping at straws to finally, at the end of the poem, be able to  acknowledge perhaps the greatest loss she had yet suffered.  Truly beautiful.  And she beats the demon back out the door that is telling her she can’t take it, can’t handle it, by naming and confronting it.

Wonderful, redemptive poem.



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, “One Art” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. Reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.
Source: The Complete Poems 1926-1979 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983)

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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10 Responses to Losing

  1. J.B. Long says:

    These left me dizzy: the poem especially. Both posts were great. Thanks for sharing.


    • Well, Josh, you probably realize that Bishop wrote a “villanelle” with this poem which has a specific meter and stanza form, and it works very well musically, suits her purposes perfectly, to indicate her mounting tension and anxiety as the poem develops. You can rhythmically hear her getting all wound up (“practice losing farther, faster”) over the subject as she gets the nerve to approach the major loss she is dealing with (the “you” she addresses and refers to in the poem). That rising tempo and meter just MIGHT make you or anyone dizzy!


  2. Dylan Thomas used it too in another poem about loss, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Here’s more about the villanelle form http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5796


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