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Billy Collins' "The Golden Years"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Billy Collins

Billy Collins

Introduction and Text of "The Golden Years"

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins composed his playful sonnet titled "The Golden Years" to contemplate the notion that a name does not always fit the entity that bears it. His sonnet form is the Elizabethan, the same form famously employed in the Shakespeare sonnets, thus also called the “Shakespearean” or “English” sonnet. Collins' little drama features the traditional three rimed quatrains, ABAB CDCD EFEF, and the rimed couple GG.

The tone of Collins' sonnet contrasts greatly with the seriousness often associated with the English sonnet form. He analyzes and overanalyzes the trivial but also makes a clever observation all seemingly for the primary purpose of entertainment more than for sharing information.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Golden Years

All I do these drawn-out days
is sit in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge
where there are no pheasants to be seen
and last time I looked, no ridge.

I could drive over to Quail Falls
and spend the day there playing bridge,
but the lack of a falls and the absence of quail
would only remind me of Pheasant Ridge.

I know a widow at Fox Run
and another with a condo at Smokey Ledge.
One of them smokes, and neither can run,
so I’ll stick to the pledge I made to Midge.

Who frightened the fox and bulldozed the ledge?
I ask in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge.

A Recitation of "The Golden Years"

Commentary

Former poet laureate Billy Collin crafts an amusing little sonnet, taking as his subject several retirement communities that are haphazardly named, for example, his own community is called “Pheasant Ridge” but the place boasts neither pheasant nor a ridge.

First Quatrain: A Recent Retiree

All I do these drawn-out days
is sit in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge
where there are no pheasants to be seen
and last time I looked, no ridge.

The speaker, apparently a fairly recent retiree with much time on his hands, announces that lately his only activity is to spend time sitting at his kitchen table. Thus his days are long and drawn-out. He then reveals the tidbit of information that despite the name, Pheasant Ridge, the place where he is residing is not a ridge, and it has no pheasants.

Second Quatrain: Finding Something to Do

I could drive over to Quail Falls
and spend the day there playing bridge,
but the lack of a falls and the absence of quail
would only remind me of Pheasant Ridge.

In order to provide some other activity besides sitting in his kitchen at pheasantless and ridgeless Pheasant Ridge, he could drive over to Quail Falls. And at Quail Falls, he could play bridge all day. But the problem with spending the day playing bridge at Quail Falls is that there are no quail there and neither is there a falls. These omissions would only remind the speaker of being at pheasantless, ridgeless Pheasant Ridge. Predicting that he would be thus reminded, he opts to continue sitting in his kitchen, musing on other wrongly named communities.

Third Quatrain: No Surprises

I know a widow at Fox Run
and another with a condo at Smokey Ledge.
One of them smokes, and neither can run,
so I’ll stick to the pledge I made to Midge.

By the third quatrain, the reader pretty much knows what to expect. So when the speaker says, "I know a widow at Fox Run / and another with a condo at Smokey Ledge," the reader can be fairly certain that there are no foxes and runs at the former nor smoke and ledges at the latter. However, the speaker twists things a bit to avoid the fault of total predictability. One of the widows is, in fact, a smoker, but "neither can run." Leaving the reader to sort out which is which, the speaker then confesses that he has made some sort of pledge to Midge which keeps him located at his seat in his kitchen at Pheasant Ridge. How handy for the poet that his companion's name rimes with his retirement community's name.

Couplet: Dabbling in Clever Reparteé

Who frightened the fox and bulldozed the ledge?
I ask in my kitchen at Pheasant Ridge.

So while still sitting in his kitchen at pheasantless, ridgeless Pheasant Ridge, he proffers the question, apparently to the Midge, to whom he has pledged some sort of fidelity, "Who frightened the fox and bulldozed the ledge?" The speaker suspects that the fox must have, at some point, scampered off, perhaps from fear, while the absence of a ledge at Smokey Ledge indicates the work of bulldozer. Collins' clever little drama offers a light-hearted glimpse at the simple fun of non-serious musing.

Billy Collins speaking at the 2009 NWP Meeting

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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