Billy Collins

(22 March 1941 - / New York City)

On Turning Ten - Poem by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.


Comments about On Turning Ten by Billy Collins

  • (4/26/2018 9:44:00 AM)


    But rlly this poem is depressing (Report) Reply

    2 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • (3/14/2018 6:17:00 PM)


    Just sent this out to my men's group. Perhaps it will help them remember that the child is father to the man. (Report) Reply

  • Damion Hamilton (3/10/2018 6:01:00 PM)


    As I walk through the universe in my sneakers. Is powerful line of for me. (Report) Reply

  • (2/12/2018 5:54:00 PM)


    Is this poem free to use for school use? I can’t seem to find the book it is published in. Thank you (Report) Reply

  • (1/17/2018 12:10:00 AM)


    this is dark stuff. I read a few poems this one is a suicide poem. (Report) Reply

  • (1/9/2018 9:05:00 AM)


    this is a boy that is turning ten and he was sad of turning a big number (Report) Reply

  • (1/9/2018 8:35:00 AM)


    its a good poem my friends like it (Report) Reply

  • (12/15/2017 2:22:00 PM)


    this is about someone going under mid life crisis (Report) Reply

  • (12/15/2017 2:18:00 PM)


    this is essentially a 10 year old going through a mid-life crisis (Report) Reply

  • (12/15/2017 9:18:00 AM)


    Robert, Collins saw no color in speed when he was young, either. But I believe Frost swung birches. Collins never has the ring of truth. Speed is tactile. Our skin feels it. I would bet you not one child in a million refers to the color of speed. And neither does an adult. He's a lightweight and a sham, and he has hoodwinked an entire nation by being easy. I'm not going along for the fatuous ride. (Report) Reply

  • (12/6/2017 3:11:00 PM)


    i really like this story because it reminds me of when i was 10 and now i am 29 and it is really great an di love this website so keep it up (Report) Reply

  • (12/5/2017 12:52:00 PM)


    vote up if you like this poem (Report) Reply

  • (12/5/2017 8:49:00 AM)


    1st verse danish translation:
    Hele ideen om det får mig til at føle
    som jeg kommer ned med noget,
    noget værre end nogen mavesmerter
    eller hovedpine jeg får fra at læse i dårligt lys-
    en slags mæslinger af ånden,
    et pølser af psyken,
    en disfiguring kylling pox af sjælen.
    (Report) Reply

  • (12/5/2017 8:23:00 AM)


    kinda like this. don't know what to say though. (Report) Reply

  • (11/28/2017 8:56:00 AM)


    danku memesu is a ninja ninja (Report) Reply

    (12/15/2017 2:24:00 PM)

    i love memes

  • (9/18/2017 8:07:00 AM)


    La idea entera me hace sentir
    como si estuviera bajando con algo,
    algo peor que cualquier dolor de estómago
    o los dolores de cabeza que obtengo de leer en mala luz,
    una especie de sarampión del espíritu,
    una paperas de la psique,
    una varicela desfigurante del alma.

    Usted me dice que es demasiado pronto para mirar hacia atrás,
    pero eso es porque te has olvidado
    la perfecta sencillez de ser uno
    y la hermosa complejidad introducida por dos.
    Pero puedo acostarme en mi cama y recordar cada dígito.
    A los cuatro años era un mago árabe.
    Podría hacerme invisible
    bebiendo un vaso de leche de cierta manera.
    A los siete años yo era un soldado, a nueve un príncipe.

    Pero ahora estoy en la ventana
    mirando la luz de la tarde.
    En ese entonces nunca cayó tan solemnemente
    contra el lado de mi casa del árbol,
    y mi bicicleta nunca se apoyó contra el garaje
    como lo hace hoy,
    toda la velocidad azul oscuro se escurrió fuera de ella.

    Este es el comienzo de la tristeza, me digo a mí mismo,
    mientras camine por el universo en mis zapatillas.
    Es hora de decir adiós a mis amigos imaginarios,
    tiempo para convertir el primer número grande.

    Parece que ayer solía creer
    no había nada bajo mi piel pero luz.
    Si me cortas podría brillar.
    Pero ahora, cuando caigo sobre las aceras de la vida,
    Piel de mis rodillas. Yo sangro.
    Billy Collins
    (Report) Reply

  • (9/18/2017 8:06:00 AM)


    You asked for a translation he you go you got it.


    La idea entera me hace sentir
    como si estuviera bajando con algo,
    algo peor que cualquier dolor de estómago
    o los dolores de cabeza que obtengo de leer en mala luz,
    una especie de sarampión del espíritu,
    una paperas de la psique,
    una varicela desfigurante del alma.

    Usted me dice que es demasiado pronto para mirar hacia atrás,
    pero eso es porque te has olvidado
    la perfecta sencillez de ser uno
    y la hermosa complejidad introducida por dos.
    Pero puedo acostarme en mi cama y recordar cada dígito.
    A los cuatro años era un mago árabe.
    Podría hacerme invisible
    bebiendo un vaso de leche de cierta manera.
    A los siete años yo era un soldado, a nueve un príncipe.

    Pero ahora estoy en la ventana
    mirando la luz de la tarde.
    En ese entonces nunca cayó tan solemnemente
    contra el lado de mi casa del árbol,
    y mi bicicleta nunca se apoyó contra el garaje
    como lo hace hoy,
    toda la velocidad azul oscuro se escurrió fuera de ella.

    Este es el comienzo de la tristeza, me digo a mí mismo,
    mientras camine por el universo en mis zapatillas.
    Es hora de decir adiós a mis amigos imaginarios,
    tiempo para convertir el primer número grande.

    Parece que ayer solía creer
    no había nada bajo mi piel pero luz.
    Si me cortas podría brillar.
    Pero ahora, cuando caigo sobre las aceras de la vida,
    Piel de mis rodillas. Yo sangro.
    Billy Collins
    (Report) Reply

  • Loppo Louie (11/15/2016 1:18:00 PM)

    On Turning Ten
    Really like this poem. (Report) Reply

  • (10/25/2016 1:45:00 PM)

    On Turning Ten
    What the hell is dark blue speed? ? ? Come on, Billy! How about just speed? All the speed drained out of it. Dark blue speed! (Report) Reply

    (12/15/2017 5:55:00 AM)

    Robert, Collins saw no color in speed when he was young, either I believe Frost swung birches. Collins never has the ring of truth. Speed is a thing that has a tactile. Our skin feels it. I would bet you not one child in a million refers to the color of speed. And neither does an adult. He's a lightweight and a sham, and he has hoodwinked an entire nation by being easy. I'm not going along for the fatuous ride.

    (12/13/2017 3:57:00 PM)

    I think you are illustrating the poet's point. In reading this as an adult you see no color in speed just as the older child in the poem no longer sees the color- it has been drained-, but he remembers that once he did see the bike as filled with speed, and that the speed had color. The use of color as symbol is similar here to Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas, another poem that touches on growing older and the loss of innocence.

    (11/28/2017 2:54:00 PM)

    It means the sky around becoming dark

  • Rajnish Manga (10/19/2015 12:56:00 PM)


    This is a poignant commentary on the years of life that have gone past now. As a boy grows older, he appears to be oblivious of his innocence. A quote from the poem:
    but that is because you have forgotten
    the perfect simplicity of being one
    (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: soldier, believe, today, light, remember, beautiful, house, tree, dark, time, friend



Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003



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