The losses found within Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “One Art” form a list of disconnected objects that are connected within the framework of the poem. The list consists of keys/hours/places/names/houses/realms/rivers/a continent/you. All of the objects listed in the poem are generic examples. The door keys are not specified which door or doors they unlock. The misspent hours are not specified when they were spent or on what they could be better spent. The places, the names, the houses, the realms, the rivers, and the continent all leading up to the “you” are all equally generically defined.
The generic blankness of all of these examples leads to the impression that the” you” that is to be lost (or has been lost) at the end of the poem is an equally generic example of its class. This generic “you” could easily be lost and replaced with any other object from the category of “you.” Therefore, as the poem infers in the last two stanzas when the speaker says, “I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster./—Even losing you […]” (Bishop 15-16) the loss of the “you” is just another every day and unimportant loss that can be shrugged off without making much of a mark on the speaker’s life. Except, the distance created by the speaker using only generic examples shows that the speaker is distancing him or herself from a much more traumatic loss.
The speaker states, “Then practice losing farther, losing faster […]” (Bishop 7). The line, on its own, lends little to the discussion of the subconscious of the text, but several times when I was reading through the poem to assess the connections between the items lost, I misread the word “farther” as “father.” The repetition of my misreading and the close resemblance between the word “farther” and “father” shows a possible area of repressed trauma. The word “farther” is only one letter off of the word “father” and could easily be the subconscious of the speaker trying to communicate the existence of an elderly and ailing parent. The speaker must practice the loss of his or her father through the typical losses people experience over a lifetime. Or because there is no sex in my psychoanalytic interpretation, the speaker may simply be practicing the oedipal murder of his or her father as Freud would suggest. To be a pervert or not to be a pervert, that is the question.
Bishop, Elizabeth. “One Art by Elizabeth Bishop.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47536/one-art.