Treasure Island

Billy Collins

(22 March 1941 - / New York City)

Forgetfulness


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.

Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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Read poems about / on: fishing, poem, flower, river, war, remember, moon, dark, night, fish, swimming, rose, kiss, memory

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Comments about this poem (Forgetfulness by Billy Collins )

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  • Frank Avon (9/18/2014 12:56:00 PM)

    Well, I find it hard to believe that Billy Collins suffers this forgetfulness, for his mind is still so sharp and his poems to clever and articulate. But this definitely speaks to me. I tried one on this same subject, not realizing that Collins had beat me to it - and, oh, so much better. Along with Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, and Andrew Hudgins, he's #! on my list of living poets. But, alas, I have no memory of how I first learned of his work. (Report) Reply

  • Ange Lobue (6/28/2014 11:31:00 AM)

    “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.” (Report) Reply

  • Ange Lobue (6/28/2014 11:31:00 AM)

    “Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.” (Report) Reply

  • * Sunprincess * (6/18/2014 11:09:00 AM)

    .........our brains are an exotic flower....and someday it will wilt and fade away....and our memories will blow away with the wind... (Report) Reply

  • Queeny Gona (8/28/2013 6:49:00 AM)

    Fantastic write Deat Collins Sir! Anyone can forget anything at anytime in one's life. (Report) Reply

  • Katherine Hunter (1/5/2013 1:11:00 AM)

    whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

    I was not too impressed with this poem until laughing hysterically at that line.
    : -) Ok, you got me. (Report) Reply

  • David Bingham (12/9/2012 9:04:00 AM)

    For those of you that like to give so many thumbs down and are so critical of this wonderful, polished, humerous art, I suggest you write your own poem on negativity. You are an expert in that field. (Report) Reply

  • Sue S. (4/17/2012 3:01:00 PM)

    This poem is wonderful. What a tender and empathic understanding. (Report) Reply

  • Milica Franchi De Luri (3/14/2010 7:56:00 PM)

    Only people that are going through this forgetfulness can appreciate this fine write. It is so true. that is why we have to exercise our brains, by writing and reading, so we don't go to much down south of our brains....... (Report) Reply

  • Pierre Lugosch (1/3/2010 6:14:00 PM)

    The Lethe river is a true coupe de plume. The muses as well. A real Billy Collins masterpiece. (Report) Reply

  • Aurora Rose (11/12/2009 4:45:00 PM)

    Greenwolfe-
    In this poem, Collins chooses to write free verse as is a growing trend in contemporary poetry, popularized by Walt Whitman. Just because a poem does not have an identifiable rhyme scheme does not mean it is prose. A poet's choice to employ free verse is significant and meaningful in and of itself. furthermore, this poem is rich in metaphor and allusion, particularly to Greek Mythology, concerning the river Lethe (river of forgetfulness in the underworld) , the nine muses whose mother was Mnemosyne (personification of memory) . Also, the progression of memory loss throughout the poem is symbolic of the loss of memory throughout life. This poem is inundated with poetical devices, it merely takes an experienced and knowledgeable reader to fully understand and appreciate its nuanced complexity. Not all poems must end with a life-altering epiphany. This poem is a witty reflection on the nature of human memory loss, and a wonderful contribution by Collins to the world of contemporary poetry. (Report) Reply

  • Aurora Rose (11/12/2009 4:44:00 PM)

    Greenwolfe-
    In this poem, Collins chooses to write free verse as is a growing trend in contemporary poetry, popularized by Walt Whitman. Just because a poem does not have an identifiable rhyme scheme does not mean it is prose. A poet's choice to employ free verse is significant and meaningful in and of itself. furthermore, this poem is rich in metaphor and allusion, particularly to Greek Mythology, concerning the river Lethe (river of forgetfulness in the underworld) , the nine muses whose mother was Mnemosyne (personification of memory) . Also, the progression of memory loss throughout the poem is symbolic of the loss of memory throughout life. This poem is inundated with poetical devices, it merely takes an experienced and knowledgeable reader to fully understand and appreciate its nuanced complexity. Not all poems must end with a life-altering epiphany. This poem is a witty reflection on the nature of human memory loss, and a wonderful contribution by Collins to the world of contemporary poetry. (Report) Reply

  • Greenwolfe 1962 (9/1/2008 3:55:00 AM)

    I just heard the name of Billy Collins a few weeks ago, and I thought that at
    some point I would read one of his better poems before making any comment on him. This is the poem I chose to read and these are my first comments. In the
    first place, I noticed this was not a poem. It is prose. Second, he decides that
    the purpose of this is to talk about forgetfulness. So, that is what he does. He says some things about it, but at the end he really has no revelation to convey.
    His clarity was good for the most part. There are no particular things that one
    might wish to remember from this piece. Perhaps, he has decided that since
    things are all going to be forgotten anyway, there is no point in being memorable.
    If that were the purpose of this piece then it may be remembered. Otherwise,
    it shall be another victim of its title.

    GW62 (Report) Reply

  • Emancipation Planz (10/30/2007 1:59:00 AM)

    I forgot how I clicked here but it was worth the dropp in thanks.. lucky I go places One Peace at a time... (Report) Reply

  • Cheryl Lynn Moyer-peele (7/15/2007 9:23:00 AM)

    Billy -

    Your name showed up on the bottom of my page, stating people who read your poems also read mine. Wow, they must just be clicking around. Your poetry is so skillful, its obvious you've put years of passion into perfecting this emerging American pastime, the poetic arts!

    Best wishes - xxxxxCheryl (Report) Reply

  • Margaret Newcomb (6/24/2007 12:26:00 PM)

    Mr Collins,
    I heard you on NPR and was moved to writing. You've inspired me, not beyond words, but to them. The essence of your writing has gone straight to my very core. As if I've known you so very long. Thank you. (Report) Reply

Read all 28 comments »

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