The Lanyard Poem by Billy Collins

The Lanyard

Rating: 5.0

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the 'L' section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that's what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
'Here are thousands of meals' she said,
'and here is clothing and a good education.'
'And here is your lanyard,' I replied,
'which I made with a little help from a counselor.'
'Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.' she whispered.
'And here,' I said, 'is the lanyard I made at camp.'
'And here,' I wish to say to her now,
'is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.'

Monday, May 11, 2015
Topic(s) of this poem: mother
shut up 13 January 2018

this is boring and annoying and nobody really cares that much about a poem

7 31 Reply
Joseph Pedulla 15 December 2017

I no more believe he thought a gift of a lanyard made them even than I believe he made the lanyard on Mars. No child has such thoughts. Collins does not tell the truth. Children give things to their mothers to make them happy, not to keep an account even, a thought that has never crossed the mind of a single child since the dawn of creation- except for Collinsized children, I guess. God! Tell the truth about us! ! !

2 20 Reply
Jan in Honolulu 09 May 2021

I know in my heart that every pin, macaroni art piece, every yarn lei my boys gave me was given with all their hearts with overwhelming gratitude for the love I had and still for them.

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Saber Athena 12 August 2018

The author was only trying to say that he his trying to say that that he is finding a way to repay his mother’s love.

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Larry Lynch 11 December 2015

rueful is the perfect word. And as an aside, now we know that Billy Collins plays piano, or at least has one in his studio. The poem also shows the process of finding poetic ideas randomly, a cool concept for teaching students to seek out where poems hide.

5 8 Reply
... 21 October 2021

Such a beautiful poem!

0 0 Reply
... 21 October 2021

good poem it amazing

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Charlotte Harrell 06 July 2020

I'm onboard for your poetry Mastercourse; these are the first two of your poems I have read. The Lanyard and The Iron Bridge. Both poems make me glad I took the course. I feel sure we can talk, now.

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destiny 19 November 2018

why did you change spacing and words? it was beautiful the way it was

3 3 Reply
Saber Athena 12 August 2018

It lets me feel very emotional about this Poem when it talked about the part where the mother had taken care of the author and through this poem, I leaned that mother’s love is very nice to all the kids who were/was their children.

5 1 Reply
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