September 19, 2012
Busy Old Fool
MEMORIZING "THE SUN RISING" BY JOHN DONNE
By Billy Collins
Every reader loves the way he tells off
the sun, shouting busy old fool
into the English skies even though they
were likely cloudy on that seventeenth-century morning.
And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words,
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare,
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.
But after a few steps into stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes,
I can feel the first one begin to fade
like sky-written letters on a windy day.
And by the time I have taken in the third,
the second is likewise gone, a blown-out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.
So it’s not until I leave the house
and walk three times around this hidden lake
that the poem begins to show
any interest in walking by my side.
Then, after my circling,
better than the courteous dominion
of her being all states and him all princes,
better than love’s power to shrink
the wide world to the size of a bedchamber,
and better even than the compression
of all that into the rooms of these three stanzas
is how, after hours stepping up and down the poem,
testing the plank of every line,
it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.