Billy Collins

(22 March 1941 - / New York City)

Forgetfulness - Poem 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.


Comments about Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

  • (1/7/2018 1:46:00 PM)


    A friend sent me this poem and im sending it on to a close friend. (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Sylva-onyema Uba (2/6/2017 11:42:00 PM)


    and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag.

    A mathematical expression of poetry.
    Well expressed thoughts and feelings.

    Sylva.
    (Report) Reply

  • Tom Allport (1/4/2017 6:00:00 AM)

    tom allport
    a sad poem of forgetfulness and sorrow. (Report) Reply

  • Wes Dixon (11/25/2015 3:05:00 PM)


    One of my favorites...one of several I memorized so I can carry it with me always... (Report) Reply

  • Panmelys Panmelys (3/28/2015 8:14:00 AM)


    One who can critic is mediocre, so I'll just keep my thoughts to myself, my school motto was: Think of all you speak, but speak not all you Think. It's often helped in many instances in life ramble. A good poem all the same, well
    organized. Panmelys
    (Report) Reply

  • (2/6/2015 11:50:00 AM)


    Mostly what I like about Collins is his great sense of humour.... But this poem is so sensual, so wonderfully written, so intimate - I like it on its own! (Report) Reply

  • (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

  • (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

  • (10/7/2013 10:05:00 AM)


    I really like this poem by What's-His-Name. (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

  • (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

  • (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

  • (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

  • (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

    (12/17/2017 6:45:00 PM)

    Collins' poem does not transform. It is entirely denotative, not indirect as Frost said. Collins does not really write poetry at all. He just tells things as they are, and he thinks he makes it poetic through the excessive use of figures and tropes that actually stand out only because they seem to be employed for no purpose beyond themselves. What you call poetical devices look like circus strong men without a circus. And a poem had better reveal something, or it is no poem.

  • (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

  • (11/17/2008 9:04:00 PM)


    What? I told I have to write 20 characters. Why? (Report) Reply

Read all 36 comments »

# 62 poem on top 500 Poems

User Rating:
4,5 / 5 ( 203 votes ) 34



Read this poem in other languages

This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.

I would like to translate this poem »

word flags

What do you think this poem is about?

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



Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003



[Report Error]