“Forgetfulness” by Billy Collins Naturally, life is a continuous cycle of experience and learning. Yet often times so much is buried in our lives that we fail to remember or recall what we have learned. Memories that range from miniscule facts to important emotions can often leave unknowingly from our mind. Billy Collin’s “Forgetfulness” shows how memories are delicate and fragile, and that the process of forgetting is one that is nonchalant.
Billy Collins effectively blends subtle humor and irony with a dramatic tone shift to explain that ideas and facts that people think are important flee the mind, showing that nothing good can last. Although he refers to memories in a lighthearted, thoughtful manner, the poem gradually shifts (just as memories fade) to a more serious and solemn tone. Collins does this to advise the reader that memories do have an importance in one’s life, although forgetting them is bound to happen, memories leave the mind and float away, down a “dark mythological river. “Forgetfulness” though consistently crafty, leaves the reader on a grave note reminding the reader that forgetting is a natural part of life that everyone must go through. As humans age, memories drift “out of a love poem,” and can leave not only one’s conscious mind but can leave an empty feeling in oneself. Collins uses images that one would not expect to use when discussing the degradation of memory. He also uses images that are seemingly unconnected to show the process of memory loss.
The thought of memories retiring to a village is comical and clever and this lighthearted tone paints forgetfulness in an optimistic light. Forgetfulness occurs smoothly, a process impeding but not urgent. Each image that Collins represents forms a tranquil scene when he mentions memories such as “long ago you kissed the nine Muses goodbye… ” Rather than portraying memory being forgotten as tragedy, Collins almost ridicules people who are on their “way to oblivion. In this way, forgetfulness is shown as a process that will happen to anyone at any time in his or her life, whether or not the memory was even important. When Collins addresses memory in stanza six, “floating away down a dark mythological river,” it seems that the reader can get a sense of drifting his or her own mind into a darker place where forgetfulness is thought as something less joyful than “memories you used to harbor…to a little fishing village where there are no phones,” but rather something more solemn and gloomy.
Collin again mentions the idea of memories drifting when he says “no wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted out of a love poem that you used to know by heart. ” The poem’s course of gradual forgetting continues to process as the memories first begin to float away in a river and eventually the moon completely “drift(s) out of a love poem”, where moon is a metaphor used to represent memories. It can be implied that important memories such as feelings of loved ones will gradually leave you, and that nothing good can last.
Collin’s wittiness and nonchalant approach is observed in the overall tone of the poem which manifests lightheartedness with a dark undertone. He uses this lighthearted tone because the he explains the things that have forgotten in a scattered and seemingly unconnected way. Yet at the same time Collins is very thoughtful about the things that were once forgotten and the things he is trying to remember. The optimistic subtle tone is found directly in the simple accusations that he makes to the audience, evoking emotions when saying something such as “little fishing village where there are no phones. The tone of the last stanza shifts from casual and joyful scenes to more serious and hopeless ones. The beginning of the poem foreshadows the upcoming tonal shift, saying that after the plot will come a “heartbreaking conclusion. ” The gradual shift begins to occur when he says “it has floated away down a dark mythological river” and gradually begins to grow more solemn when he speaks of rising in the middle of the night-an activity that does not sync with other stanzas of the poem which are mostly brief mentions of flashback memories.
Collins uses words that are fused with loss and melancholy when he says “night” and “war” which indicate a tonal shift. He then also mentions the moon “drifting out of a love poem,” an emotional memory that one will never be able to recall again. The tone shift is also seen specifically through the words denoted in the poem; such as “slip” and “float” which imply a sense of a gradual and smooth process of forgetting.
Collin’s purpose of evoking emotion to the reader and signifying the continual process of forgetting is revealed through small attention to detail such as the common diction and personification. Collins uses very clever and witty images to describe the process of forgetting to ironically make it seem that memories are not as important, although they are significant in individuals lives: “the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain. ” Here Collins plays on he idea of an older person retiring not only from a job, but retiring from his or her own mind. Collins reaches out to the older audience saying that forgetting is a normal process of life, one that must be accepted. Collins also personifies the phrase “the quadratic equation pack(ed) its bag” to explain that important facts are decreasing, showing that the mind has no control later in life. He also uses personification to give the writing more variation and to explain to the reader what the speaker is forgetting in a way that is more interesting than just stating it.
Throughout the poem Collins personifies and gives the things that the speaker is forgetting the human qualities of hiding or escaping from the speaker’s recollection and memory. Enjambment is also being employed between stanza three and four as a way to unify the poem since there is no rhyme scheme. This continuation of words that link each stanza to stanza show how the process of forgetting is a smooth one, one that lugs and drags until all important memories fade away.
Forgetfulness is not a lonely stage but it is a human tendency that everyone experiences. Collin states that “you will join those who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle, “by using second person point, Collin implies that it will happen to everyone, thus forgetting is something humans have in common, and it is a natural force that can unite us all. In addition, words such as “struggling,” “heartbreaking” and “oblivion” create a sense of hopelessness in that they connote grief and sadness.
His words create visual images of abandonment “as if one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire…” creates a feeling of separation between memories and the mind. The poem is gradually getting darker, losing memories one by one, just as the first stanza foreshadowed the “heartbreaking conclusion. ” Collin’s poem is, in a way, forgettable since not every word he says is absorbed. Just as Collins says “the entire novel suddenly becomes one you have never read,” the poem itself becomes something to forget about and can eventually leave the mind.
One could even forget that the poem was read, this in itself is a example of Collin’s purpose- forgetfulness is a process bound to happen to good and to bad memories. Every experience and image painted by Collins makes the reader drift into his or her own memories. “Forgetfulness” though consistently crafty, leaves the reader on a grave note, reminding the reader that forgetting is a natural part of life that everyone must go through, and as humans age, emories drift “out of a love poem,” and can leave not only one’s conscious mind but can leave an empty feeling in oneself. Through subtle humor, irony, and a consistently crafty structure, Billy Collins treats the subject of forgetting with an easeful and relaxed tone to show that although learning and experiences are significant for every individual, there comes a time in life when all good and bad things fade and memories could become so distant that “it is not (even) poised on the tip of your tongue. ”