Not on the tip of your tongue

I intended to write today about words I’ve been losing (though eventually finding), like “omelet” and “dominoes”. The author of “5 tips to tame word-finding difficulties” says losing words happens to everyone, though increases with age. Does it ever!

Then I came upon Billy Collins’ poem “Forgetfulness”, which describes the phenomenon so perfectly! Here, from the Poetry Foundation, where you can also listen to it, “Forgetfulness.”

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

6 thoughts on “Not on the tip of your tongue

  1. Loved the poem! Hardy and I can both totally identify! It doesn’t get better with age, like old cheese does! But it helps to laugh about it, or write a poem, or go back to the German prayers you memorized as a child, and recite them perfectly!

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  2. This one resonates with me! What excellent imagery. I’ve seen a comedian address this topic; very funny. But, this is the first time I’ve seen a written version. Thanks for sharing this poetry!

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  3. I loved this poem and came across it through my friend and yours, Eunice! I find that I often forget a word and then ask my husband if he knows what I mean, but as soon as I do that, the word comes to me – proof that it is somewhere in my brain, although not always “on the tip of my tongue”! M xx

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