Analysis of Three Poems by Billy Collins

Original Text from:

The Down To Earth Billy Collins

Billy Collins is a poet who writes poems that easily connect to the public because of his simple diction, his relatable themes, and humor. In many of his poems he uses these techniques of poetry grasp the everyday reader’s attention and have them think and laugh.

Growing up, Billy Collins’s poetry was greatly influenced by his parent’s personalities. His father’s sense of humor and his mother’s knowledge of poems influenced him to become the great American poet he is today. In a small video clip, Collins describes his mother and father and their personalities. He stated that he was influenced by his “father, for his sense of humor, for he was a joker.” (Re: Who are you?) Collins said that his father had a “zinger” for nearly every occasion. Collin’s father did practical jokes as well to his co-workers that would classify as “physiological harassment.” (Re: Who are you?) His mother’s interest in poetry also influenced the path in life he chose today. When Collins’s mother was a “child she memorized lots of poetry, so as an adult she was a ‘storehouse’ of poetry.” (Re: Who are you?) Just as his father had a zinger for every occasion his mother had a line of poetry for every occasion.

Collins was also influenced by teachers. Some of his teachers encouraged him to continue writing his poetry, while other teachers doubted his ability, calling his poems “teenage hormonal overdrive or overspill.” (Re: Who are you?) Collins stated the teachers he remembered “vividly, were the two or three teachers who were very discouraging to [him]…” (Re: Who are you?) His teacher’s doubt caused him to keep writing because he believes that he has “a much keener appetite for revenge than [he does] for approval.” (Re: Who are you?) He said that once he became the poet Laureate of the United States, it “added a little bit of sugar to the experience.”(Re: Who are you?)

In the poem “Flames” by Billy Collins uses descriptive diction, relatable themes, and humor to connect with his readers. An everyday reader can read the poem and instantly see the deeper meaning behind it.

The descriptive diction used in the poem to allow the reader to easily envision Smokey. Collins vividly describes Smokey with a different image to what most readers would imagine. Collins creates an image of Smokey with his ranger hat “cocked at a disturbing angle.” (Collins 6) Collins continues and goes into deep detail about Smokey’s brown fur as it “gleams and the high sun.” (Collins 7) The descriptive diction surprises the reader by contrasting the normal image of Smokey the bear and causes the reader to become interested.

The theme about human’s lack of concern for nature is also an easily relatable theme for the average reader. The theme centers around the lack of consideration for the environment uneducated people have. By using the image of Smokey the Bear, the image already in the head of the majority of the readers allow the reader to picture Smokey. The condition of the environment is a pressing issue in today’s society. People are concerned with the environment, and because of that, the theme is easily relatable. Without a theme that can be easily picked up, less people will be able to connect with the poem “Flames.”

Billy Collins’s use of humor entertains his readers as they read the poem. The irony of the poem allows the reader to envision Smokey and laugh a little. The first image of Smokey is a jolly and caring bear urging campers to be vigilant about forest fires. However, in the poem, Collins creates rather ironic image of Smokey with “a red can of gasoline and a box of wooden matches.” (Collins 4) The once jolly and caring bear is now replaced with a bear with “His ranger’s hat is cocked at a disturbing angle.” (Collins 6) The highly contrasting image of Collin’s Smokey to the Smokey that everyone envisions creates an ironic difference. The use of humor allows any reader to enjoy the poem.

In the poem “The Country” by Billy Collins, Collins once again uses descriptive diction, relatable themes, and imaginative humor to connect with his readers.

Collins writes his poem with a heavy amount of description about what the speaker sees, thinks, or imagines. When the speaker was looking at his father, he noticed the father’s face “was absolutely straight when [he] twisted the lid down on the round tin.” (Collins 6) When the speaker imagines the rat rounding a corner and scratching “the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam” (Collins 13) the reader can imagine exactly what the speaker is imagining. Collins’s simple yet descriptive diction allows the reader to able to emerge himself into the speaker’s mind.

“The Country” is a poem about a person reminiscing about his childhood and the things his father said to him. For many of the readers, it is a relatable topic. People often think about their childhood and their parent’s lessons. The poem allows readers to tap into the wild imagination readers had when they were a child. By connecting the theme back to childhood, the poem becomes easily relatable and enjoyable to read.

Collins also uses imaginative humor to keep the reader engaged in the poem. The poem introduces an unlikely possibility of a mouse getting a match stick and starting a fire in the house. Even though readers will find the unlikelihood of the event humorous, imagining the mouse accidently lighting the match and becoming “a fire-starter, now a torchbearer in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid illuminating some ancient night,” (Collins 20) brings up even a more unlikely story. The random and abnormal imagination entertains the reader by giving comical image of “the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces of his fellow mice.”(Collins 27) Collins’s humor in the poem grasps the attention of any reader and easily connects to them.

Lastly, the poem “Another Reason why I don’t keep a Gun in the House” is another prime example of how Collins’s uses his informal diction, relatable life problems and, sarcastic humor to grab the attention of the readers and connect to them.

Collins uses informal diction to easily connect with his readers. The whole poem seems like a comedy act just to give a simple and comical complaint. He uses terms like “they must switch him on on the way out.” (Collins 4) The term is sarcastic and sounds like something a down to earth person would say. The speaker complains about the constant “barking, barking, barking.” (Collins 9) Repeating the word shows the speaker is expressing his aggrevation. The way the speaker talks about his feels gives him the image of a relatable human being. Using the simple and informal diction, the speaker connects with the reader by being human.

By building a poem about relatable life problems, the average reader can easily relate to the problems. The constant and annoying barking of a dog is a problem for anyone living close to one. The poem speaks to people who endured the endeavor. The reader can see and feel his aggregation in the way he “close all the windows in the house and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast.” (Collins 7) However the constant barking still breaks though the barriers the speaker uses to block the sound. Much like in real life, the loud barking invades the peaceful life to the point he can “now I can see him sitting in the orchestra, his head raised confidently as if Beethoven had included a part for barking dog.” (Collins 10) The use of a relatable topic allows the reader to understand the poem and relate to the speaker.

The use of sarcastic humor also grabs the attention of the reader and brings them in. Even from the title “Another Reason Why I don’t Keep a Gun in the House,” is a rather amusing title. The title it self is amusing for the fact that the speaker would not actually shoot the dog if he had a gun. The title’s exaggeration makes it amusing and interesting. The sarcastic tone that gives the image of the dog as it sits “there in the oboe section barking, his eyes fixed on the conductor who is entreating him with his baton,” (Collins 17) is a humorous exaggeration of the dog constant bark. Collins’s use of the sarcastic humor easily shows the emotion of speaker, giving him human qualities, as well as entertaining the readers.

Billy Collins parents and teachers gave him the upbringing needed to become the poet he is. He continually creates poems that readers can easily relate to and laugh at. His poems makes readers wonder about our existence and impact to the world. “Flames” brings to light the inconsiderate actions of humans to the environment. “The Country” makes reader wonder about the length of our existence or if humans can be easily replaced. “Another Reason Why I don’t Keep a Gun in the House,” makes the reader ask if humans are similar to the dog by being not able to stop talking. Billy Collins creates simple and engaging poems with deep meaning in them. The simple language, relatable topics, and humorous styles bring the readers in at the same time entertains them. Only after the reader is enchanted by poem does the reader see the deeper meaning in them. His poems allow the average reader to become interested and give readers a chance to think. Billy Collins’s poems allow any person to understand and relate to his poems as well as giving a deep meaning. His poems are perfect for people looking for an entertaining poem or for people trying to get into poetry.

Related Poetry:


Smokey the Bear heads
into the autumn woods
with a red can of gasoline
and a box of wooden matches.

His ranger’s hat is cocked
at a disturbing angle.

His brown fur gleams
under the high sun
as his paws, the size
of catcher’s mitts,
crackle into the distance.

He is sick of dispensing
warnings to the careless,
the half-wit camper,
the dumbbell hiker.

He is going to show them
how a professional does it.

The Country

Another reason why I don’t keep a gun in the house

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