Marginalia – Billy Collins – Analysis


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have manage to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

Billy Collins

I do appreciate the annotations of others … especially in poetry where interpretation is so varied. Comments can be incisive, amusing as well as informative and appreciative.

Looking at this text …

S1 … we don’t like what is being said … we hate it … we want others to know it is a load of – … so anger may generate such a response

S2 … the text is studid, silly, child like … and you have to let the author know how silly and stupid he or she is … and a dismissive derisive word only takes a second to write

S3 … well students studying text need to expand and reinfore their new found learning … so this is quite justified of course

S4 … in agreement … the empty bleachers … they want you to know they are with you all the way  … but they are quite empty of their own thinking and probably they have only given a superfical read of your precious words

S5 and S6 … BC wants you to know that you should have annotated some book at some time in your life … and if not why not? … You can’t be that lazy!

S7 … it has happened all through history … and I love the lines … anonymous men catching a ride into the future /on a vessel more lasting than themselves. … so another reason – immortality

S8 … the great merit of annotations by the famous

S9 … this annotation takes the cake and the icing even though eggs are at issue … saying something entirely outside the text and about that one subject that is so important – love! – and at the same time giving an excuse for eating and reading with messy hands! – the line that’s remembered, the line that makes the poem perfect or should I say without stain!

So keep those comments flowing … it is so easy to do in today’s internet world. Those on Facebook and other social media are doing it everyday.

So why do we write in books? – well this is what I’ve just got to tell you – it’s all about self-expression and being heard … when you were in your young wet-concrete years I’m sure you were duly tempted … well, you don’t need to find a stick …  just use those fingers! … go on, my ear is waiting!  LoL

Your word in my ear ...

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