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On Turning Ten

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Brenna Watkins

on 21 April 2015

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Transcript of On Turning Ten

About the Author
Thesis
Billy Collins uses a child's perspective to convey a poem that seems simple but has a much more complex meaning. The poem discusses the struggle of turning ten while paralleling the struggles of growing up in adulthood. The poem sounds like a child could have written it but it also discusses very adult-like issues.
Poet Laureate
Leader of Poetry in America
Serves to raise awareness and appreciation of reading and writing poetry
Receives a $35,000 stipend
Gives a reading at the Library of Congress at the beginning of the series
Gives a lecture at the end of the series
Billy Collins
On Turning Ten
Analysis
Born in 1941 in NYC
Famous for witty poems that draw you in with humor and then slip into some sort of profound commentary
“Rarely has anyone written poems that appear so transparent on the surface yet become so ambiguous, thought-provoking, or simply wise once the reader has peered into the depths.” -John Taylor
U.S Poet Laureate 2001-2003, New York Poet Laureate 2004-2006
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 would shine.
But now if I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
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
The first half of the stanza uses simple phrases and language that makes it seem as if it is something that a child would write
The second half is far more complex and it is written in a way that a child would never be able to convey.
Analysis
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.
Collins uses metaphors that parallel the illnesses mentioned in the first part of the stanza.
The second stanza follows the theme of being written from the perspective of a child. Collins reflects on all of the ages and experiences leading up to ten. This expresses how a child would look back on their life thus far but also points out things that an adult probably wouldn't remember quite as vividly. It also expresses the imagination of a child that its not necessarily prevalent as one grows up.
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 stanza is a turning point in the poem. This stanza is sad and reflects emotions that a child would never really consider. Collins discusses the sadness of looking back at his childhood activities as if, because he is turning ten, he can't enjoy riding his bike. This is clearly not true, but in the mind of a child, it is.
Analysis
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now if I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
This stanza continues discussing the things that a child believes that he cannot continue because he is turning ten. Collins expresses that the big step of turning ten ends the chance of having imaginary friends and similar things. This continues with the parallel of an adult growing up. An adult actually has to give up an imaginary friend.
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
This last stanza is the part that makes this distinctly a Billy Collins poem. Up until this stanza, the poem has been relatively lighthearted and simple. This stanza reveals the profound nature that Collins is famous for. This poem expresses the true reality of growing up and no longer being a child.
More Information
Lyric Poem
No rhyme scheme
Metaphors
"a kind of measles of the spirit/a mumps of the psyche/a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul"
Hyperbole
"the perfect simplicity of being one/the beautiful complexity introduced by two"
Conclusion
Billy Collins uses the perspective of a child turning ten to parallel the struggle of an adult growing up and forgetting childhood. Through a seemingly simple poem, Collins portrays profound message that a child could understand and adults can analyze.
Works Cited
"About the Position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress." About the Position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry (The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress). N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015

"Billy Collins." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

Dillard, Ashley. "Complexity in the Simple." Prose Works. N.p., 12 Dec. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.
Full transcript