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Billy Collins' "The Golden Years"

Updated on October 8, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Billy Collins

Source

Commentary

The retired speaker of Collins' little sonnet offers an amusing cogitation about the names of retirement communities, obviously not named for their function.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins composed his playful sonnet titled "The Golden Years" to contemplate with notion that a name does not always fit the entity that bears it. His sonnet form is the Elizabethan, famously employed in 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.

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

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 main purpose of entertainment more than enlightenment.

First Quatrain: "All I do these drawn-out days"

The speaker, apparently a fairly recent retiree with much time on his hands, announces that lately his only activity is to "sit in [his] kitchen at Pheasant Ridge." 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: "I could drive over to Quail Falls"

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: "I know a widow at Fox Run"

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: "Who frightened the fox and bulldozed the ledge?"

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

A recitation of Collins' "The Golden Years"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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