Friday, August 21, 2009

Higher Learning

We're taking my son to college today, and I'm wondering how his mind and heart will be changed by the next four years. All I know is that I won't be there to direct it, and that's a good thing. At least I think so when I read this poem by Billy Collins---which seems to capture the absurd twists, high pleasure and zig-zaggy fun of finding things out for yourself.

by Billy Collins

I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title.

It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now

so immediately the poem has my attention,

like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve.

And I like the first couple of stanzas,

the way they establish this mode of self-pointing

that runs through the whole poem

and tells us that words are food thrown down

on the ground for other words to eat.

I can almost taste the tail of the snake

in its own mouth,

if you know what I mean.

But what I’m not sure about is the voice,

which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans,

but other times seems standoffish,

professorial in the worst sense of the word

like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face.

But maybe that’s just what it wants to do.

What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas,

especially the fourth one.

I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges

which gives me a very clear picture.

And I really like how this drawbridge operator

just appears out of the blue

with his feet up on the iron railing

and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging—

a hook in the slow industrial canal below.

I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s.

Maybe it’s just me,

but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem.

Read the rest or listen to Billy Collins read it here

Poetry Friday is hosted today by The Boy Reader.


  1. We took ours to college yesterday. I'm wondering too.

  2. I cannot imagine what it's like to be in your shoes. Enjoy the transition days and everything that is to come!

  3. What and exicitng and poignant time for you. The years will speed by faster than you can possible know. The poem is a wonderful match. Thanks.

  4. Perfect poem to describe the ins and outs and meanderings of learning. Another friend just took her son to school in SC yesterday. A new phase for all concerned :).

  5. What a season of new beginnings. My thoughts will be with your family at this time of transformation. LOVED the poem. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I bet you miss him already. But as you say, he needs to learn some things on his own - like how many days you can go without washing your towels.

  7. Oh good lord, Sara. Wouldja look at him in all his littleness???

    And, not to get you all weepy and stuff, but have you read this:


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