Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

By Billy Collins

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.

Commentary: To me, this is an amazingly powerful poem,
overflowing with allusions, clever imagery, and voluminous
complexities, and unfoldings. For one, Collins’ reference to the
middle of the night reminds us of our own growing older
and our struggle to hold onto the past, to remember,
glimpse what we’ve been, and perhaps what we are
becoming. This poem rattles my cage. How about yours?

This entry was posted in Billy Collins Poetry by Don Iannone. Bookmark the permalink.

About Don Iannone

Don Iannone is a poet, writer, teacher and photographer who lives in the Greater Cleveland area. He has worked in the economic development field for over 35 years. Don is the author of three poetry books and five photography books. He is working on a short book of photographs and poems about human trafficking. This work was exhibited at six venues in Ohio. Don holds an M.A. degree in Art and Consciousness Studies from the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles, where he teaches writing. His educational background also includes studies in Anthropology, Photography, Organizational Behavior, and Economic Development. Don’s website: Wisdom Work Press:

10 thoughts on “Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

  1. I suppose when I forget how to ride a bicycle, then I should be concerned.
    And now that I think of it, I haven’t ridden one in probably over ten years, or more.
    Who knows? Or who doesn’t know? That is the question.
    And the answer.

  2. Dan: Thanks. Just keep riding the illusion that you’ve ridden for 56 years and you will be just find. At least, that I can keep up on. 🙂

  3. well, it’s a great poem and it addresses what we are all familiar with one way or another.
    thank you for sharing.

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