The Art Of Drowning

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.

After falling off a steamship or being swept away
in a rush of floodwaters, wouldn't you hope
for a more leisurely review, an invisible hand
turning the pages of an album of photographs-
you up on a pony or blowing out candles in a conic hat.

How about a short animated film, a slide presentation?
Your life expressed in an essay, or in one model photograph?
Wouldn't any form be better than this sudden flash?
Your whole existence going off in your face
in an eyebrow-singeing explosion of biography-
nothing like the three large volumes you envisioned.

Survivors would have us believe in a brilliance
here, some bolt of truth forking across the water,
an ultimate Light before all the lights go out,
dawning on you with all its megalithic tonnage.
But if something does flash before your eyes
as you go under, it will probably be a fish,

a quick blur of curved silver darting away,
having nothing to do with your life or your death.
The tide will take you, or the lake will accept it all
as you sink toward the weedy disarray of the bottom,
leaving behind what you have already forgotten,
the surface, now overrun with the high travel of clouds.

by Billy Collins

Comments (10)

I have almost drowned FIVE times.... This poem seems to forbode the actual DROWN.
He wonders how it all got started this business about seeing your life flash before your eyes while you drown? It all got started because it happens, Billy! Why can't this guy put on display the mysteries of the life he notices around himself rather than these hypotheticals he delights in.
I almost drowned once, and all I saw was that quick blur of curved silver! And the life-saving water ski belt that I never wore again. Too bad that I hadn't come across this poem at that time. I would've had it framed with the belt and sent it to this very funny guy!
I enjoy his voice. He can describe with the best, he can characterize also with the best, but what some best can't do is keep up with his wit.
Artfully done and full of humor. Collins is at his best here.
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