poet Billy Collins

Billy Collins

#31 on top 500 poets


You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003
Poem Edited: Sunday, March 27, 2011

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Comments about Litany by Billy Collins

  • hhhhggg (9/30/2020 9:03:00 AM)


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  • Shia LaBeouf (9/30/2020 9:02:00 AM)

    I cried for nearly an HOUR after reading this it was just so powerful.

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  • Anonymous (5/7/2020 11:33:00 AM)

    Rate this poem from 1-10. I want to see the different opinions you all have.

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  • Dad? ? (4/8/2019 11:40:00 PM)

    Have you seen me?

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  • Susan Wallis (1/21/2019 1:09:00 PM)

    Has anyone connected this poem to Poem Number LXXXIII in Baudelaire's Fleurs du Mal, stanza number 6?

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  • Paresh ChakraParesh Chakra (11/28/2018 4:31:00 AM)

    It is my favorite poem

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  • Louann O’Bannion (7/26/2018 7:04:00 AM)

    I love the poem, the way it surprises you with the “you are nots”. The reading of the poem, however, was horrible. Totally expressionless. Computer generated sounds?

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  • Joseph Pedulla (12/14/2017 11:39:00 PM)


    https: //docs.google.com/document/d/1mVEyRK9MyXoJC5s-F9UgUWPiADG_METlRwsn1g5mA2g/edit? usp=sharing

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  • Joseph Pedulla (12/14/2017 7:22:00 AM)


    https: //docs.google.com/document/d/1dxI8AerVNefRZ6McUUE_O9DEfhg6r_DNh89hpMoI2d0/edit

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  • Marc Pearsall (3/26/2017 9:41:00 AM)

    I love this poem because Billy takes the traditional poetry to task. He illustrates just how ridiculous most poetry is by showing us how ridiculous it can be.
    I love it.

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  • Joseph Pedulla (10/25/2016 7:32:00 PM)

    billy collins is to poetry what Thomas Kinkade was to painting- nothing but fluff and sugar. All is simple and bright and happy! Yay! ! ! This poem is as silly as the thought that generated it. The worst line is the needless repetition of the There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air. There's always that hyper hip tendency from Collins, the need to write down to the audience so as to fit into a modish little thimble space! I have advice for Collins: GET LARGE! ! ! ! ! SAY SOMETHING TO SHAKE US TO OUR ROOTS! ! ! ! ! HURT US! ! ! ! ! LACERATE US! ! ! ! ! LANCE THE BOIL OF OUR LETHARGIC LACK OF SENSIBILITY, BUT DO SOMETHING LARGE! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! Stop dicing about in the garden with your little trowel and seeds and yellow sunhat. It's sickening.

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    Kristen(12/13/2017 1:37:00 AM)

    And you think poetry shouldn't be fluff and sugar? Silly and fun and truthful all at once? I hope I never have to meet you in real life because you sound like a DRAG.

    Rod MendietaRod Mendieta(12/18/2016 11:29:00 AM)

    Oh, come on Joseph, there's room enough in Poetry for the Billy Collinses of the world.
    Sometimes I content myself with a slice of dry apple. Other times I crave a full blown Alsatian Bacon and Onion Tart.

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  • T P (7/7/2015 8:30:00 PM)

    Feels arbitrary and playful, and
    random while still intentional. I think it's not what he meant, but what you experience of it. I think he himself would wish for us to experience it in as many ways as we can, open to all of those ridiculous or insightful and definitely varied ways that it can be felt...and even experience it again through each other's interpretations. And that is when it becomes a poem. Before that, when it is just what he meant and only what he meant, then it may be a poem, but it isn't really poetry. It's fun to read it as a love poem, or as a love poem slightly sarcastic to his wife, or as making fun of the tendency to be overly symbolic to the point of incoherency, or taken literally as an attempt to be symbolic in love. It reads all those ways. I tend to feel that, if meaningful, the language is such a bombardment of symbols it could be saying anything-much like being both bread and knife...

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    Joseph Pedulla(10/25/2016 7:23:00 PM)

    If it's not a poem the moment the poet types or writes the last punctuation mark or letter, it will not BECOME a poem merely by being read by a bunch of elastic-minded dunderheads. The poet makes meaning; it is our purpose to discover that meaning. Stay with us, Major Tom.

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  • Lorraine Margueritte Gasrel Black (9/28/2014 5:32:00 PM)

    I get the impression that the poet is saying that each of us isn't everything but we play our roles in the whole picture..good poem a ten from me a share on Facebook and I can see why he was Poet Laureate..

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  • Student A (4/30/2013 2:39:00 AM)

    Actually, the poem is a comparison how the characteristics and personalities of Collins and Crickillon, not really a love story. Maybe the two were friends in the past (and in the present) but I know this is not a love story. I see the poem this way, I don't know if you will too, but the poem starts by comparing Crickillon to many non-living objects, in other words, metaphorically. Then it does the same thing to Collins, eventually comparing them two by stating how Collins is not the bread and the knife and that Crickillon will always be the bread and the knife, not to mention the crystal goblet and - somehow- the wine.

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  • Peachy Keen (2/15/2011 8:59:00 PM)

    I really loved this poem when my creative writing teacher had us read it. I fell in love with Billy Collins' writing. But this one, yes is about his wife, and yes is a love poem, and yes is completely satirical about symbolization of love.
    I absolutely love them.

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  • Gina Sanchez (5/22/2010 1:25:00 AM)

    Ah, Shannon, come on! A little love surely? ! I agree with you though. It is more comical to me than anything. He is totally making fun metaphors by writing a 'litany' of them. He has a good time with them as he pokes a little fun at (I presume) his wife. It is more about his observations of the relationship than love. He loves her, yes, but that isn't the point. The pine scented air line is hilarious example of the funny style. He portrays himself as such a romantic! Gotta love it.

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  • Nobody Jones (1/7/2010 1:34:00 AM)

    i really really
    this love poem

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  • Shannon Swanson (9/14/2008 8:43:00 PM)

    This poem isn't about love at all - he's making fun of the overuse of objects as symbols. It's basically showing how symbolism isn't symbolic when over done, not how he loves someone.

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  • Fifi Trixiebelle (4/3/2007 12:47:00 PM)

    This is one of my all time favorite love poems. Billy Collins is brilliant.

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