“Forgetfulness” 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.

Image result for billy collins picture
Photograph of Billy Collins. Digital Image. 4 November 2015, https://qwiklit.com/2015/11/04/how-to-write-like-billy-collins/

about the author: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/billy-collins

Billy Collins was born in 1941 in NYC. He is a very accomplished author and has been recognized for his talents by the White House and has given Ted Talks which he has delivered his spoken word poems to his audience. In his contemporary pieces, he incorporates humor which is similar to the two flash fiction pieces we have read.

The Sad Reality of Aging

The renown poet, Billy Collins, sheds light on the reality of human’s memory decaying over time in his piece titled, “Forgetfulness.” In the first stanza, he describes how people often forget a book that they have read and can’t recall anything about the author, plot, or characters. He states, “The name of the author is the first to go followed obediently by the title, the plot…” (lines 1-2). This example demonstrates how people of various ages aren’t always quick to recall a book’s plot because this foggy memory doesn’t take priority over other, rather more important memories in their daily lives. In the next stanza, he says “memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain” (lines 5-6). The use of personification shows how the memory takes on a humanistic feature because it retires like a human would from a job. It seems as if the brain is all worked out and needs to reside somewhere peaceful. His memory appears to be deteriorating because the brain is divided into two hemispheres, right and left, rather than north and south and this intentional mistake could hint at how the man’s recollection is a little hazy and not as sharp as it once was. There is a reference to the Muses when he states, “Long ago you kissed the Muses goodbye” (line 8). After researching the Muses, I learned that their mother, Mnemosyne, is the goddess of memory. Knowing this, it seems that the person has passed the stage of having a good memory. The lines following talk about how it’s hard to learn something new without forgetting something stored in his head like “the address of an uncle” (line 11). It’s becoming clear that Collins is talking about the onset of dementia in an elderly man. He seems to be at a loss because things that used to be ingrained in his memory are starting to slip away gradually. The common knowledge that he should know like the back of his hand isn’t so obvious anymore. It seems to be a constant struggle to retain information. Collins mentions the Lethe river in stanza 6 which in Greek mythology was a river in the Underworld where people became forgetful after they drank the water. The comparison of a river alludes to how his memory isn’t concrete with a solid foundation as it once had been. It is more fluid in the sense that it’s sometimes hard to recall things that seem to be on the tip of his tongue. This frustrating experience seems as if the man is losing a part of himself, his own individuality. He can’t keep a firm grasp on his memory loss which is shown in the last stanza when it says, “No wonder why you rise in the middle of the night to look up the date of a famous battle” (lines 20-21) which was once a vivid recollection. Collins brings forth a sad reality to grasp and I for one have experienced my grandpa suffering from the detrimental disease called Alzheimer’s. This poem spoke to me which is why I chose it because I related to his metaphors and his truth about growing old.

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