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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Billy Collins's poem The Art Of Drowning


  1. Amanda says:

    this is my favorite poem of all time… coming from someone who actually knows that they’re talking about. and who has read pleanty to compare and contrast from. So it seems “bertie” has no idea what the hell she is talking about.

  2. Bertie Bassett says:

    Hi. This poem is the biggest load of shit I ever did see. I have noticed that single-celled amoeba who have yet to evole passed the basic stages of life could write better peoms than this with there feet, just like a hillbilly. You have all the talent of a inbreed llama who has no face but paints with his excrement.

    i can write better poetry when i am straining to remove the shite from my gouch area, with a loofa. You will die soon as i will smite you, you stupid inbreed. fuck you, fuck you in you stupid ass!!!

  3. ruth says:

    this is my favorite poem ever!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Billy Collins better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.