University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Analysis of Forgetfullness, by Billy Collins
This poem is really easy to identify with. The first 4 stanzas are clearly relating the reader to the poem. Everyone at some point has to learn these general, seemingly useless facts. “A state flower” “The capital of Paraguay” so arbitrary, but so true in that this brings back memories of 3rd or 5th grade for almost all of us, it is bound to strike a chord with the reader. This is also coupled with a slightly nostalgic loss of these facts in the first stanza, as slowly the individual sections of a book (that you as the reader once clearly enjoyed) are systematically removed from your memory by time. Then the tone shifts from musing about facts we don’t remember, to our inability to remember them. It begins to get darker. This is useful contrast from the imagery that the reader experiences during the first few stanzas, remembering childhood, and innocence. Juxtaposed is the now darker “mythological river” described as vague that, dauntingly, is leading to oblivion. The hopeless tone thus has that much more impact as we make our way to our own “oblivion” or death, where we will join the dead: “those who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.” Then Collins provides a justification for our wanting to remember, wanting to enrich our every moment, as soon memories will be pointless. Really, in the end this is providing a more inherent worth to memories than they ever had before, because of the fleeting nature of life that Collins describes. Not in a fun, youthful “carpe diem” way, Collins is showing how short we have to live. Only from this presentation can the reader then make the leap that we ought to cherish these good memories, and make good memories, such as the “moon (out of the) love poem” in the closing lines of the work.