Is loss a theme in Bishop's poems "Sestina" and "One Art"?

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Yes, loss is a common theme in these two poems. It is more obvious, I think, in "One Art" because loss is directly referred to as early as the first line. The speaker encourages us to "Lose something every day" in order to grow accustomed to the feeling of losing things. She says that we can "practice losing farther, losing faster" all kinds of things, even ideas or memories, so that we are, perhaps, better prepared to lose bigger things and not feel that we have met with total disaster. We learn that life does go on.

The theme of loss in "Sestina" seems a bit subtler. The light is "failing" when an "old grandmother" sits with her grandchild in a kitchen. It is September, near the time of the equinox, and so the earth will begin to lose light as the nights become longer and the days shorter. The grandmother cries, and the child thinks that the teakettle does too. The grandmother's teacup is described as being "full of dark brown tears," and she seems to cry herself, hiding the tears from the child. Perhaps the death of summer and onset of fall reminds her of her own mortality, as the almanac tells her it is "Time to plant tears."

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Both of Elizabeth Bishop's poems "Sestina" and "One Art" contain the theme of loss.

First, to examine "One Art," the theme of loss is defined in the first line:

The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Not only does the first line speak to learning to live with loss, Bishop goes on throughout the poem explaining different losses. Embedded throughout the poem are references to different losses: door keys, time, places, names, a watch, and homes.

In the poem, Bishop is simply stating that one loses many things throughout life and, based upon this, one can only master the "art of losing."

In "Sestina," the theme of loss is more deeply embedded indirectly. One must look for things which are lost although they are not necessarily stated as lost.

The rain mentioned in the first line could refer to the fact that the clouds have lost their rain. No longer is the rain a part of the cloud once it has fallen to the earth.

In line two, "failing light" is mentioned. This illustrates the fact that the day is coming to a close and that the day has been lost.

One last reference to loss appears when tears are mentioned. Tears can be regarded as falling because of a loss which one must face. The tears, once they fall, have been lost to the person crying.

Overall, sometimes loss is very defined (as in "One Art"). Other times, a reader must look for ways to justify a theme embedded within a text.

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