Forgetfulness is a poem written by Billy Collins

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Forgetfulness is a poem written by Billy Collins in which the author discusses his or her struggles of memory loss. At first glance, the poem seems to be straightforward and only concerned with a person who has a forgetting problem. However, as the layers of the poem are stripped away and the reader delves further into the context, the reader has a better understanding of the poem and understands why Collins used literary forms in his prose. The poem is aimed at both young and elderly readers. It prepares the young individuals for the reality of memory loss faced later in life as they age while at the same time helps the old persons accept the process of forgetting as part of life. This paper will provide a reader-response essay to the poem Forgetfulness by carrying out an in-depth and critically analysis.

Literary Stylistic Response

The poem describes a condition of memory loss with the persona suffering from the problem of forgetting as an affliction caused by aging. The reader can be able to tell that a persona is an old person who gives a warning to the audience on the issue of memory loss through the experiences stated. Every word in the poem was carefully selected by the author to bring out its meaning and build a metaphor of forgetting in the mind of the reader. Collins successfully employed writing styles of imagery, diction, and allusions in his poem. The author writes "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." (Collins). This is imagery and Collins meant that everyone has a problem of forgetting where, when one learns something new, it replaces the old memories. Additionally, Collins employs allusions in the poem to draw an emphasis of the poem's subtext. For example, allusion is seen when he writes "It has floated away down a dark mythological river whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall" (Collins). These words were prudently used by Collins and aimed at creating allusion literary device. Mention of a river which starts with letter L denotes to a Greek river Lethe whose story highlighting story holds that anyone drinking water from the river experiences the problem of memory loss.


Diction is also used to bring out to give the poem its magnificent flavor and bring out the meaning of the poem. Using the word "lurking" in the statement "Whatever it is you are trying to remember, it is not poised at the tip of your tongue, not even lurking in some obscure corner of spleen" brings out dictation (Collins). The mode in which the word "lurking" is used makes it remain hidden waiting for an ambush for something or someone. The reader can be able to link this to the nature of how human memory forgets things and sometimes remembers them abruptly like songs when it creeps into the mind. Collins also portrays some form of irony in his writing. It is ironical that the speaker cannot be able to remember the name of the river which makes people forget. The irony is also seen when Collins writes "long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses' goodbye," (Collins). Nine muses in Greek mythology are known to be Mnemosyne's daughters and Mnemosyne was a goddess of memory. The irony, in this case, is seen from the fact that the poem talks about memory loss and the speaker forgets the names of the nine muses who are daughters of the goddess of memory.


Personification is another rich style that is evident from the story of the poem. In using personification, Collins gives the reader a better understanding of what the speaker is experiencing. He writes "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" (Collins). Here, personification is given to the memories which are said to retire and are not able to be reached. Therefore, the reader can be able to understand the way the speaker memories losses his memory. Personification is also seen when Collins states "...and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag" (Collins). The quadratic equation is personified and this the writer tries to portray that the equation forms part of the memory loss. Besides, Collins has personified forgetfulness typically throughout the poem and gives the things that the speaker forget.

Organization of the Poem

The organization of the poem is another significant point that is worth noting. Every sentence is seen to build on the idea emanating from the previous statement. In a splendidly and wealthy figurative language, Collins entirely apprehends the audience through using hyperbole seen when he writes "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" (Collins). There is no style of rhyme depicted and Collins wrote the poem in a free verse format. Furthermore, the tone of the poem is noted to be slightly randomized and thoughtful. The persona of the poem explains the forgotten things in a scattered way and in a seemingly unconnected manner. The audience can point out the thoughtfulness of the speaker concerning the things were forgotten and the way the speaker tries to remember them. Every stanza is seen to shift subjects owing to the changes between the memories and the specific facts although the underlying idea of the poem still remains.

Response to the Theme of the Poem

The theme is clearly illustrated from the title of the poem, forgetfulness. The entire poem builds the idea of forgetting where Collins' poem concerns an aging person who is experiencing the problem of memory loss. The speaker starts by forgetting simple things like a quadratic equation but as the poem progresses, the speaker forgets more critical things such as riding and swimming. Collins actively engages the reader by stating that new memories replace the old ones and the poem's fundamental subtext is that as one grows older, he or she tends to forget more important things due to memory loss. A close scrutiny of the poem also reveals that the author intended to provide many varieties of interpretations to the poem realized from the hidden themes after digging deeper. Whilst memory loss or forgetfulness forms the obvious theme, the theme of nothing lasts forever is manifested from the story. This theme is revealed in the way Collins portrayed individuals to be victims who forget facts, memories, and skills that were at a point well known to them. Additionally, a possible theme that could be derived from the poem is that each and every person possess vulnerabilities. Memory loss is one of the vulnerabilities human beings have particularly the older persons. Thus, the poem could have various interpretations and meanings and the excellent literary devices that Collins employs in his writing makes the audience think harder concerning the deep meaning of the poem.


Undoubtedly, the poem forgetfulness manages to capture the hard and tragic reality of memory loss while at the same time succeeds in maintaining a flavor of figurative language and irony that creates humor in the midst of the tragedy. Experiencing memory loss is one of life's worst scenarios which create immense pain and agony to a person. In a captivating poetic manner, Collins thrived in explaining his primary theme of forgetfulness throughout the poem. Indeed, the variations used in writing the poem, the interesting theme that carries weighty messages together with magnificent literary devices capture the mind of the audience in an attractive and charismatic manner.

Work Cited

Collins Billy. Forgetfullness. Poerty Foundation. Accessed 7, March, 2017 from

November 03, 2022



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