Friday, February 02, 2007

A Poem to Remember

Picking one favorite poem is not an easy thing to do. Do you pick one that is universally accepted as really great? Or perhaps one that tugs at your emotional heartstrings? What are the criteria for such a difficult choice?

I have been intrigued with the poetry of Billy Collins for the last couple of years. Not because it will show up on the list of “The Top 100 Poems of All Time”. But rather because Billy Collins talks about just plain ordinary things and makes me think about them in a new light – every time!

As I get older and watch my memory slowly get a little rusty, this poem seems to sum it all up so nicely:


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 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

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.

--Billy Collins


Blogger KassyK said...

Hi Barbara--I just wanted to let you know that I got your message and concern and I appreciate it so much. :)

10:43 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kassy -- I miss your Blog! I hope you can work things out and continue to write and publish. It's a shame some misguided individuals have to ruin things for others.

10:58 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

No wonder we forget, no wonder we like so much to remember. Happy Groundhog Day, dear friend.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Velvet said...

Awesome! I love that we do this every year!!

10:58 AM  
Anonymous quentin said...

I was gonna tell you my current favorite -- it's by W.S. Merwin and it's about Something I've Left Undone (big issue currently), but I've forgotten it just now.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

I love Billy Collins - and for the very same reasons. But if I had to pick one poem right this moment to be a favorite it would be:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

4:27 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Quentin -- This is so like you. You obviously got the poem. But you are too young to join the ranks of the forgetful just yet.

Pauline -- I love your favorite poem also. And so does our rabbi, who often reads that at the beginning of our shabbat morning service.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- Not to leave you out. Even though you refused to own this happening, you were responsible for it. Thanks for making us ponder poetry once again.

Velvet -- Yes, it's a good way to mark mid-winter and get us ready for spring. I do love poetry day. I wonder how many people out there put up a poem today?

5:08 PM  
Anonymous David said...

I'm so glad I don't have this memory problem. But, I must say Mr. Collins captures it perfectly.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

David -- I am tempted to throw out just a few examples of the state of your memory, but instead I will leave our readers to marvel at the fact that you're approaching your 60th birthday with your memory fully intact...

7:35 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Great pick. It's a touching poem.

8:49 PM  
Anonymous David said...

hey, today at P.T. (Q can confirm this), a patient guessed my age as 49!

8:51 PM  
Anonymous quentin said...

It was a kind-hearted group in the clinic today...

9:06 PM  
Anonymous John said...

The last line of Collins' poem is what really caught me. Wonderful.

3:31 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

John -- Exactly. It's his ability to use simple words to describe things that we might not have realized were important, but they are.

6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is so right on! But at least you and David have not forgotten how to ride bikes!

(Okay, I'm switching today! Gotta make some tea first to calm me down! HA! Hope that doesn't progress to alcohol afterward!)

11:20 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- I hope you made the switch so you can come out of anonymity! It wasn't so bad now, was it?

1:30 PM  

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