Essay on Disaster in Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art

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Disaster in Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art Art is not life. More, it is a deception, mirroring experience and emotion, but never truly becoming that which it reflects. Art is attractive in that it is a controlled balance between rigid structure, which is too mundane for its purposes, and chaotic discord, which is too feral. Poetry is art. Loss is not. In her villanelle “One Art,” Elizabeth Bishop proves this to be so. The poem itself is an emotive crescendo, and while its speaker struggles to hold the pain of loss within the confines of art, its readers note the incongruity of such an effort. One word prompts them, and fuels Bishop’s crescendo with a momentum, a tone, and a coda; “disaster” impels the poem “One Art.” Fittingly, the…show more content…
Yet, with each of its three subsequent appearances, the word weighs heavier on the formal arrangement of the villanelle, and depresses its tone. “Disaster” is a loaded word—undisciplined, forceful, and moving—and its repeated appearance at the ends of the third and fifth stanzas underscores its gravity. Thus, although only used by the speaker to highlight its antithesis, “disaster” speaks for itself, deliberately and consistently contradicting the element of control denoted by its rhyming counterpart, “master.” The momentum of “One Art” derives from the mounting conflict between human faculty and that which exceeds it—between the words “master” and “disaster.” In its body, the poem spends most of its words on mastery. Directly, in the second and third stanzas, and through submission of personal example in the fourth and fifth, the speaker advocates that one must appoint loss a virtuous habit, and treat it as a practiced art. In these middle stanzas, “disaster” requires no such support. As the poem’s momentum builds, the speaker’s losses become more profound, and their effects more taxing. While its words rally behind “master,” the villanelle’s underlying sentiments sponsor “disaster.” And indeed, “disaster” wins the last word in this battle. In the last stanza of “One Art,” Bishop’s crescendo rises to its forte. Here, love is lost, and “disaster” resonates almost deafeningly in the reader’s mind. A greater number

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