Thursday, April 02, 2009

Poetry 2: Billy Collins

I adore Billy Collins because he makes me laugh. Here's an excerpt from "The Lanyard," in The Trouble With Poetry, in which Collins talks about how cool we think it is when me make a craft at scout camp or wherever and then present it proudly to our mothers. He contrasts all of the things his mother did for him with the present he gave her. This is an excerpt from the middle of the poem:

. . .

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
. . .

Hey, thanks to Angela for finding the link to the entire poem. Click on the title above and you can read it all.


Melinda said...

I love this poem. Especially since I have three boys and that's the kind of thing I get from them. I've got to get his book. This is my kind of poetry...

Tyler said...

Wow. That's a poignant reminder, I think, about how much mothers actually give to their kids and about how silly it is, really, to think that we can ever pay them back. I love the understatement of Collins' final line (as you have it transcribed here, anyway), especially juxtaposed at it is with his mother's words. Striking.

* * * *

I hope you don't mind if I drop a link here, but I thought you'd like to know I've posted on your poem "Washing Mother" at Chasing today in my month long exploration of Mormon verse.


Th. said...


Lady Steed and I love Billy Collins, but I've never read this one. I think I smell a Mothers Day present. for my mother as well.

jenlinmin said...

This is one of my favorite poems! Thanks for reminding me of it. It always comes to mind when Mother's Day approaches.

Darlene said...

Ah, but that's not the real last line. You've got to read the whole poem, Tyler.

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to persuade my children that one price they owe me for carrying them and giving birth to them (etc.) is to let me take photos of them whenever I want to; photos in which they should be holding relatively still and have relatively pleasant expressions on their faces. So far, this request appears to be beyond their capacity or will or both.

Tyler said...

Ah, but that's not the real last line.

I didn't think so, but I wasn't sure, which is why I hedged myself appropriately.

I'll have to see if I can track down a copy somewhere. I've been meaning to delve into Collins anyway.

Ang said...

This is one of my favorite Collins poems too. My students read it this semester and it was very well received. (Collins is almost always very well received, is he not?)

Here's a link to the whole poem, among other Collins stuff:

Michelle said...

love that! Thanks D.