Poetry Sunday: Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

The former poet laureate Billy Collins is one of the most popular American poets writing today. It's easy to see why. He writes poetry that is very accessible and that has a wry and gentle humor. It's poetry that often references everyday events in people's lives, thus it is poetry that ordinary people can relate to and appreciate. It's poems like this one that talks about something which many of us experience as we get older. See if you recognize yourself here.

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
or 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.


  1. I had never heard of Billy Collins, but this is quite wonderful, and so true! I have not got there yet, Dora, Debbie, Denise.......no, Dorothy! That's it. knew I'd get there sooner or later. Gotta make sure not to mess up with the woman who lives with me.

    1. I think most of us of a certain age are subject to those moments when we futilely search our memories for a name or a word. The trick, I find, is to move on and think of other things and then the word I was searching for soon pops into my consciousness unbidden. Billy Collins certainly understands.

  2. Oh my, oh my. All too true. Some days as I work on my book, I feel my memory improving. Other days I fear I might have actually forgotten it all and am making it up. Oh well, I can always call it a novel if I ever finish it.

    1. As a novel or a memoir, I'm sure it will be wonderful.

  3. That memory fade has started with me. I'm sure it is all senior moments, but it makes me wonder, now and then.

    1. It is cause for wonder and frustration. I think the key is to be grateful that we've lived long enough to have our heads so filled with knowledge and memories that we can experience it.

  4. In my mid-50s, I can relate to this poem, argh! I like the accessibility of Collins's poetry.

    1. He's a poet who doesn't make you work so hard for it. I think that's why so many appreciate him.

  5. Oh boy, I love it! I'm starting to get there. :-P


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