Poetry Sunday: Life Expectancy by Billy Collins

It's not a birthday ending in zero but I do have a birthday coming up tomorrow, August 9. In recent years, these events more and more make me reflect on the time that I've lived and what might be left. It's pretty certain that the years that are left will be fewer than those already lived. And if that thought depresses me, I can turn to Billy Collins who always has a way of cheering me up.


by Billy Collins

On the morning of a birthday that ended in a zero,
I was looking out at the garden
when it occurred to me that the robin
on her worm-hunt in the dewy grass
had a good chance of outliving me,
as did the worm itself for that matter
if he managed to keep his worm-head down.

It was not always like this.
For decades, I could assume
that I would be around longer
than the squirrel dashing up a tree
or the nightly raccoons in the garbage,
longer than the barred owl on a branch,
the ibis, the chicken, and the horse,

longer than four deer in a clearing
and every creature in the zoo
except the elephant and the tortoise,
whose cages I would hurry past.
It was just then in my calculations
that the cat padded noiselessly into the room,
and it seemed reasonable,

given her bright eyes and glossy coat,
to picture her at my funeral,
dressed all in black, as usual,
which would nicely set off her red collar,
some of the mourners might pause in their grieving to notice,
as she found a place next to a labradoodle
in a section of the church reserved for their kind.


  1. many happy returns! like the poem, i know exactly what he's describing...

    1. Billy always has a way of getting to the heart of the matter.

  2. Sentiments we all harbour, I suspect. Happy birthday, Dorothy. Be sure to stick around for many more years yet to bring me my Saturday roundup and Sunday poem. I will be mad as hell at you if you don't don't! If I lived close by I would drop around with a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and we would celebrate together.

    1. Well, have a glass of the Veuve Cliquot for me anyway and I will enjoy it vicariously.

  3. Happy Birthday! I've certainly been contemplating life expectancy and age is only a part of it.

    1. As the years advance, it does become a more urgent part of it.

  4. Belated.. wish you a very happy birthday ������

  5. Happy Birthday, Dorothy! I pray for many more healthy ones!!! Wonderful poem!

  6. What a great (if slightly bittersweet) poem. I hope you have a great birthday! :D

    1. Bittersweet pretty well describes my birthdays these days.

  7. Happy birthday, Dorothy! A romp with a Billy Collins poem is a delightful way to celebrate.


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