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Mary Ruefle’s collection of poems has shown an underlying focus on heartbreak, confidence, words, and language. In her poem “The Art of Happiness,” she explores these central thematic ideas once more. She specifically utilizes craft of repetition and symbolism throughout the poem to emphasize on the impact of the need for happiness.

Ruefle takes repetition of “the art of happiness” as a tool to portray a cycle. Throughout the poem, she is setting the art of happiness to be comparable with that of water. This symbolism of water allows the reader to understand the art of happiness as a necessity. The poem also has a quickness when reading it because of the repetition that is being used. This repetition not only allows the reader to see a reflection of the cycle of moving water as a cycle of happiness, but also allowing for the reader to physically return to a repeated phrase, just how water travels, again returning to the beginning of the cycle.

As the poem nears its end, Ruefle takes a shift to heartbreak in the poem. The shift occurs in line 21, where she states “As you can see I am dying of happiness.” This is not simply a shift in the poem associated with mood or tone, but also a shift in perspective. From the start of the poem, Ruefle is speaking of struggling to put words to a feeling, so she writes. The poem then incorporates the parallel of a glass of water and the art of happiness to express this desire for happiness that she has.  However, when the shift occurs by line 21, the perspective moves to a more ominous position to the audience – “What’s a glass of water to you?”

There is something much more heartbreaking and intimate about this poem with the use of shift, repetition, and symbolism. Ruefle gives the reader a simple symbol of water to take the reader to a place of understanding the symbolism as both necessary and damaging. Instead of tackling the idea of the art of happiness as a concept to understand, she is giving the reader a path to follow toward understanding the necessity, but not the purpose or answer of what the art of happiness is.

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