Figurative language and literary devices play an important part to help develop themes in poems by use of symbolism, irony, and petition. Bishop uses symbolism to give a further, intellectual meaning to her subject other than its literal definition. Bishop uses the term “art” for two different meanings. She coins the term “the art of losing” to describe loss as a sort of practice or sport (Bishop 1). She insists that the more someone loses, the better they are at dealing with it. The literal meaning of art used however is the poem itself.

The poem is the author’s reaction to when she loses a possession, to relieve the sense of loss and to discover a ay to get over it by releasing her feelings and writing it down. In the Belleville, Bishop also uses symbolism when she mentions, “lost door keys, the hour badly spent” (5). She begins with material items that are easily replaced before moving onto the loss of a person. However the main losses she encounters are the watch, which represents her mother, the “three loved houses”, and her loved one mentioned in the last stanza (11).

All three are friends, family, and lovers that the reader can relate to because eventually everyone loses a parent and an important relationship. The three houses represent not only her childhood where she grew up and left but also homes she shared while in relationships. Compared to the material items she talked about earlier, the people in her life that she has lost cannot be replaced. Irony is usually used in poetry to represent two contrasting statements or ideas. Bishop uses irony all throughout the poem to further emphasize her theme about loss.

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The line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master;” is a form of verbal irony. Bishop uses verbal irony intentionally to let the reader know that despite what the line says, he means exactly the opposite in that losing someone, or anything can be devastating (1). At first glance, the poem could be mistaken as a sort of trophy for the art of losing, but instead of being proud she is devastated by the fact that she has lost not only material items but also her loved ones like her mother.

While Bishop continuously brags throughout the poem about mastering the art of losing, it is understood by the readers that while life is about losing people you love, it does not get easier. Her irony throughout the poem is a form of anger and bitterness that came from losing her loved ones. With the repetition of the last lines in each stanza, the two lines “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” or “None of these will bring disaster” are there to reinforce the entire meaning and theme of the poem (6/9). In poetry, “repetition begins to make a form for remembering” (Cleaver 32).

The two repetitive lines are used as a form of a coping mechanism to talk the author and reader into the fact that Just because they have lost something, it is not the end of he world because life still goes on no matter what you have lost. Since the poem continuously lists possessions that are easily lost, Bishop always counters it with the fact that the feeling of loss grows on a person. Repetition is used to “[go] back to the beginning, the edge from which it launched itself forth, back to the origin” to continuously remind the reader of the theme of the poem (Cleaver 37).

She uses the two lines throughout the poem to emphasize her feelings and to get her point across o the reader. In her poem, Elizabeth Bishop’s losses escalate from keys too loved one. Without figurative language and literary devices, she would not have been able to convey her theme and messages. Bishop showed loss and the devastation that it created through symbolism, irony, and repetition. She proved to her readers that losing loved ones and friendships is a hardship. Losing loved ones – family, friends, or lovers – is hard to cope with despite however much a person can believe they are prepared for it.


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