death of the English Language…..

english-alphabets

Poem to the First Generation of People to Exist After the Death of the English Language
by Billy Collins

I’m not going to put a lot of work into this
because you won’t be able to read it anyway,
and I’ve got more important things to do
this morning, not the least of which
is to try to write a fairly decent poem
for the people who can still read English.

Who could have foreseen English finding
a place in the cemetery of dead languages?

I once imagined English placing flowers
at the tombstones of its parents, Latin and Anglo-Saxon,
but you people can actually visit its grave
on a Sunday afternoon if you still have days of the week.

I remember the story of the last speaker,
of Dalmatian being tape-recorded in his hut
as he was dying under a horse-hair blanket.
But English? English seemed for so many of us
the only true way to describe the world
as if reality itself were English
and Adam and Eve spoke it in the garden
using words like snake, apple, and perdition.

Of course, there are other words for things
but what could be better than boat,
pool, swallow (both the noun and the verb),
statuette, tractor, squiggly, surf, and underbelly?

I’m sorry.
I’ve wasted too much time on this already.
You carry on however you do
without the help of English, communicating
with dots in the air or hologram hats or whatever.
You’re just like all the ones who say
they can’t understand poetry
but at least you poor creatures have an excuse.

So I’m going to turn the page
and not think about you and your impoverishment.
Instead, I’m going to write a poem about red poppies
waving by the side of the railroad tracks,
and you people will never even know what you’re missing.

“Poem to the First Generation of People to Exist After the Death of the English Language” by Billy Collins from The Rain in Portugal. © Random House, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

It’s the birthday of the man who said, “My poetry is suburban, it’s domestic, it’s middle class, and it’s sort of unashamedly that, but I hope there’s enough imaginative play in there that it’s not simply poems about barbecuing.” That’s the poet Billy Collins (books by this author), born in New York City (1941). He was an only child. Before he even knew how to read, he would page through books and pretend that he was reading whenever his parents had company. He said, “I would say it was a fairly happy childhood. But they say he who says that is just better at repressing things.” He wrote his first poem at the age of seven when he was driving with his parents and looked out the window and saw a sailboat on the East River.
He hasn’t stopped writing poems since then. He said:
“I was a most impressionable teenager back in the days of beatnik glory, so I responded fully to Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti’s ‘Coney Island of the Mind’ — still a good title — Gregory Corso, and others. I was in Paris for a summer in the early sixties and hung self-consciously around the corners of the scene on the Boul Mich, as they called it. I sat at the same table with Corso and others, and I even hung around with an American girl named Ann Campbell, whom Realities magazine had called ‘The Queen of the Beatniks.’ (Let’s see … what did that make me??) But mostly I was a Catholic high school boy in the suburbs who fantasized about stealing a car and driving nonstop to Denver. I probably would have done it, but I didn’t have access to those special driving pills Neal Cassady had. Plus, there was always a test to study for, or band practice.”
Collins was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 2001 and held the title until 2003. As U.S. Poet Laureate, Collins read his poem The Names at a special joint session of the United States Congress on September 6, 2002, held to remember the victims of the 9/11 attacks.[
His books include The Art of Drowning (1995), Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), Horoscopes for the Dead (2011), Aimless Love (2013), The Rain in Portugal (2016) and most recently, Whale Day (2020).

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