Saturday, 10 December 2011


This poem (which I came across recently in an animated version you can see here) spoke to my own increasing absence of mind, slowness of recall, and inability to remember the names of colleagues I have worked with for years. Yes, I have seen my doctor about it, and no, he doesn't think it's anything to worry about. Just the, uh, penumbra of the shadow of eventual personal extinction beginning to extend itself over my being. That's not actually what he said. I can't remember his name just now, though I know it begins with L, like the river in the poem.

It's not a poem that goes much beyond its own surface meaning, but it's nicely put and nicely made, and I like the line about joining those "who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle".

Forgetfulness, 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,
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.

Lowe! That's it... Dr. Lowe! Phew.


Adam Long said...

Another take on this theme...

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Adam -- I guess it's inevitably going to become a theme as the singer-songwriter generation ages. Whether anyone will want to buy songs about going for your third pee in the middle of the night is another matter...

Without getting too po-faced, I find the whole subject a lot more scary than I might once have done, having watched a number of elderly relatives go down with dementia. It really isn't something to look forward to...