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,
not 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.

by Billy Collins

Comments (47)

Why does the reader read these poems in such a monotone? She is awful.
You have such a wonderful way with words. They paint such a creative image in my mind's eye. Thanks!
Yes, I know the feeling. I've always loved Goethe's Erlkönig (The Elf King) poem so much that I had memorized it both in the original German and the English translation. Now I can only recall the first stanza (Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind...) Ach, shade!
I used to have I Have Been One Acquainted with The Night by Robert Frost memorized. It mentions the moon as being like a clock. I should get back to memorizing it.
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