The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Billy Collins's poem On Turning Ten


  1. EdMag says:

    I heard your poem on NPR today as part of a book review. Actually, they read an excerpt form your poem, but the image of light (..if you cut me I would shine…) struck me as very profound wisdom from one so young. Then I remembered writing a poem of my own just before graduating eighth grade, realizing the imminent loss of childhood.

    Children offer their own insights and discoveries that we adults too often ignore, having forsaken the simple wonder of the world. Thank you for sharing and reminding us.

  2. Morgan says:

    Hey Billy Collins — do you actually read these comments? You won’t remember me, but you’ll remember a friend of mine from Alabama — she kissed you at the Sigma Tau Delta convention. Write me back.

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