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Analysis of the Poem “Forgetfulness”

“Forgetfulness” is a poem written by Billy Collins, which focuses on the aspect of people losing their memory. I believe that the voice behind this poem is someone who is aging and wants to make it very clear that, at some point in life, we all become forgetful. Billy Collins clearly brings out the fact that whether we like it or not, we are bound to forget, and absolutely nothing can be done about it. The major theme of the poem is forgetfulness, and the speaker is warning the audience to be prepared for it ( Collins, 2012). However, the poem seems to have a deeper meaning, which different readers can understand in a different way. Apart from forgetting the things, Collins also talks about people forgetting their skills in life.


Billy Collins clearly brings it the message that forgetfulness comes gradually in a person’s life. The entire poem carries a message that sounds like one which has never been read nor heard. Initially, some things are so easy to remember. The writer suggests, “it is not poised on the tip of your tongue, not even lurking in some obscure corner” ( Collins, 2012). Gradually, they are forgotten completely. He brings out the image of someone who is worried and struggling to remember but cannot do so. The narrator employs humor in the poem when he talks about the harbored memories retiring to the southern hemisphere, to a village without phones. This is humorous in the way he relates partitions in a human brain to a village.


Billy Collins employs personification throughout the poem. He does this to make it more helpful to the user so that he can understand what memory loss is all about. “As if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor, decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a small fishing village where there are no phones” ( Collins, 2012). Collins brings out the human experience of retiring after a long period of work. Just as humans retire and go to live far away in a serene environment, the speaker says that memories do the same. Personification is also evident where he says, “And watched the quadratic equation pack its bag” ( Collins, 2012). We all know that quadratic equations are found in mathematics and are intangible. The speaker uses this personification to show that memory with its intangibility also can decide to leave. There are several other areas in the poem where personification is employed, and the writer describes memory as something that lurks, escapes, and hides.


The structure of the poem is well-organized. It is procedural, and each line builds from previous one. The poem fits for everyone to read and even as we try remembering certain things, others slip away. The speaker also uses figurative language. This can be seen where he says, “Floated away down a dark mythological river, whose name begins with a letter L” (Collins, 2012). This is the river that is believed to help the dead forget their past; therefore, the author relates it to the theme of this poem. The writer also employed metaphors to create imagery. For instance, he says, “it is as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor” (Collins, 2012).

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Forgetfulness is something that everyone can be associated with. All human beings experience this phenomenon. Although we all wish to remember every good thing we come across and forget the bad ones, it is not always the case. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to change that, and we must all be prepared to face it. The poem is entertaining and informative at the same time. It employs quite a number of literary elements like metaphors and personification with a simple and clear theme.


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