Forgetfulness | A Poem by Billy Collins

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Forgetfulness by billy collins
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Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

The Poem | The Poet | A Question | Poem Analysis

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. 


by Billy Collins

Forgetfulness Billy Collins Analysis
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So here is a question for all of you, who love to read. Has this ever happened to you?

  • Sometimes the happy endings in the story made your day so happy. And sometimes the sad endings made your mood so sad that you couldn’t even relish your favorite dish for dinner.
  • You read a book. You got so much swayed by a character. So much, so that you found it so difficult to settle with people you meet in real life, who were not like the character you loved.
  • When you read the story on how the hero and his team fought a fierce battle and saved his country/city/people from the possible catastrophe. You carried the dream to make your people proud one day for next so many days.
  • The imprints of the location of the plot of the story are so deeply registered in your mind, that you actually feel like you have lived there.
  • Do you still have the verses or quotes stacked up in some corner of your brain, that you read some years back? You were so inspired by it that you are still waiting to use the same someday in front of people, and sound cool.

This still happens to me all the time. Till I read another book or watch another movie, those characters keep occupying a good portion of my mind.

Billy Collins Poems
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William James Collins, known as Billy Collins, (born March 22, 1941) is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. In 2016, Collins retired from his position as a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York after teaching there for almost 50 years. Collins is the Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida. Collins was considered as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004 through 2006. As of 2018, he is a teacher in the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.

To read more about Billy Collins, click here.

This is the poem about the limitations of the memory-feature of human brains. Due to these limitations, we tend to forget things. The poem lays down the whole logical sequence in which our brains start forgetting things. Even if we sometimes try hard to remember certain facts or aspects of a book, due to the inherent limitation of our brains we are bound to forget other things.

This comes as a word of caution to all the writers desperately trying to create a masterpiece. No matter how beautiful your creation is, it will go down to oblivion, as we all will. The oblivion is inevitable. And it is better that you remain prepared for it.

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Forgetfulness by billy collins
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