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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Billy Collins's poem Forgetfulness


  1. vivian says:

    i can really relate to this poem very well its an everyday thing.

  2. marilyn mckinstry says:

    yes, much of my memory has retired to a little fishing village with no phones, but as a friend once said’ first your memory goes, then hearing, then sight-soon all will be peaceful…’

  3. Melissa K. says:

    I heard Mr. Collins read this on Selected Shorts about 6 weeks ago and loved it. It took me half an hour of intense Googling to find his name and the name of the poem, both of which I’d forgotten. I’ll write it down this time.

  4. Mary Ann N says:

    I have been floating down this river for a long time.. I can’t remember where it ends!

  5. Jim K. says:

    I was going to say something very important about this poem, and for the life of me, I can’t remember it now.

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