Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

Billy Collins

I adore the witty and thought-provoking poems of Billy Collins, past poet laureate of the United States. He spoke at a university here a couple of years ago and I made sure I arrived early as to get a seat up close so that I could catch the twinkle in his eye. I can report that he was a delight.

Below is one of my favorite poems. Those of you 'of a certain age' will identify with and smile at his sentiments.


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart. 


  1. How lovely, and how true as the years add up. (But think of all the old books that will seem to be new.)

    Thank you for this post.

  2. You are so welcome. And what a positive spin...new/old books to discover.

    I simply swoon over the last two lines of this poem. Mr. Collins is the best!