Days 2 & 3 of National Poetry Month: Litany by Billy Collins

As you may or may not know, it’s National Poetry Month. And for those of you who may consider poetry an inaccessible or overly “intellectual” pursuit, please reconsider.

After all, there’s poetry everywhere in our lives – from the songs we enjoy on the radio to the Dr. Seuss books we read to our kids to the dialogue we hear spoken on tv and in movies.

Because I so fervently believe in the power of poetry, throughout April I’m going to attempt to post a poem every day – some of them mine, and some from other sources.

I’m always on the prowl for new sources of poetry, and a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a site that collects poems illustrated via video/film/animation. I discovered this charming video of a three-year-old reciting “Litany” by Billy Collins – 2001 Poet Laureate of the United States.

I was amazed that a three-year-old could recite this lovely poem from memory, and even more appreciative of the fact that his mom had encouraged him and helped him to achieve this feat. Obviously, poetry figures prominently in that family’s life, as the boy’s mother notes that her son loves this literary form and welcomes suggestions of other pieces for him to memorize. While he may not understand the meaning of all the words at this young age, he’ll be developing an appreciation for the sound and the rhythm and the feel of the language. And if a three-year-old can do that, I have no doubt that anyone can.

Addendum 4.4.11: For those of you who might be interested in some interpretations of the poem, read the comments section of this blog post from another poetry site. I found the insights very compelling.


74 thoughts on “Days 2 & 3 of National Poetry Month: Litany by Billy Collins

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. I consider myself a poet, post it on my blog, and sadly I was not aware that it was National Poetry Month.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed and hang on for the ride!


    • Kathy,
      I didn’t know either. I have a book at home of poems I wrote back in the “angst” of my late teenage years. I might have to crack it open and post something.

  2. Wow! That’s impressive. I agree that poetry can be accessible to anyone, at any age, in all walks of life. I’m participating in the April poem a day challenge, and it’s been a lot of fun.

    Glad to come across your blog today.

  3. I am the worst at poetry. But that doesn’t mean I don’t do it! I actually loved the Greek Dannon Yogurt so much I wrote a poem about it and sent it to them! Okay… So… in honor of my horrible kitchen/cooking skills I will attempt one. I imagine this is what my kids would write:

    This Is Just to Say

    I have tossed
    the dinner
    that was in
    the kitchen

    and which
    you certainly
    with great effort

    Forgive me
    it was gross
    so smelly
    and so cold

      • No. I thought, what a great commercial – to read all the crazy stuff (I assume I’m not the only nut that feels the need to write about such things) on television. I don’t have it anymore but it went something like… Brace yourself..cornball comin’

        A Greek Love Letter

        Thank you for going Greek
        I find it quite neat
        But I think I have you beat

        You see, I am a housewife
        Whose memories are just as wise
        and to me it’s not just yogurt
        but a way of life

        (can’t remember the middle part, but it ended like this:)

        So thank you Dannon,
        For not sticking to the same old Canon
        Of old favorite recipes
        that are good, but not as good as Greek Dannon

  4. What a great story, and what an incredible little boy. I love your idea, and i will definitely stay tuned to read some of your poetry. Not something you see very often anymore, and I think it’s great you’re bringing back an awareness and appreciation for poetry.

  5. Great idea. And I agree. There’s poetry in forms people do not realize. They may be watching television, but that favorite drama is using poetry in a subtle form.

  6. I LOVE this! I totally agree with you that poetry can be made accessible to everyone. My blog is dedicated to exactly that, and last year during Lent, I posted a poem a day for 40 days, as you are doing. Love, love, love it!! Billy Collins rocks, I could watch/listen to “The Lanyard” over and over. David Whyte is my current fave contemporary poet. Thanks for your cool work!

  7. That is wonderful. That child is adorable. I really believe that everyone can find some poetry to love — whether it’s Collins or Shel Silverstein.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!!

  8. It is impressive what kids can do these days, and what parents can achieve with their kids if they treat them the way kids should be treated…I write myself, short poems and novels (from time to time)…I would like to hear from you, get a few reviews by someone who is doing it a lot longer than myself…I invite you to visit my blog

  9. What a lovely poem! And a very impressive 3 year old. I live in London- and on the tube there are poems (courtesy of the Transport for London Poems on the Underground Scheme) and this caught my eye:

    I boom-mumble I bass-blow
    I hull-heavy I big/slow
    I boat bump I limpet-skin
    I soft-sink I sky-swim
    I sea-search I salt-swallow
    I bone-backed I fluke-follow
    I gulf-cross I listen-talk
    I moon-map I wave-walk
    I tail-turn I time-keep
    I ship-wreck I song-seek
    I blue-blood I grumble-sing
    I fish-heart I dream king

    Poems on the Underground
    Sophie Stephenson-Wright

    Somehow very touching in my opinion….

    • I can see why that caught your eye. Thank you for sharing it. I love that the city put poetry up for commuters to read. Very cool.

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  11. Oh, I must say I just love poetry! And even though I write it myself (you can check out my attempts on my blog if you want;))and passionately read it, I had no slightest idea there is something like the National Poetry Month… Great to know:) I really enjoyed the video, it’s nice to know that even these days when technology dominates every single aspect of our lives, the classical beauty of arts such as poetry is still appreciated.

  12. That is amazing that a three year old can memorize that long poem. I guess it would be the same as memorizing the words to a song. It is also a nice poem. I happen to secretly love poetry, even though it is sometimes difficult to figure out what they may mean. I like this one saying the bread and the knife, the crystal goblet and the wine are important.

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  16. It’s amazing to see how a little kid like that can remember the whole poem and recite it with such expression.
    It’s also encouraging to see that the mom is working so hard to help him appreciate poetry at such a young age.

  17. I, love the fact that more and more mothers are stepping out of the shadows and making a difference especially in the world of art. This platform we use to empower ourselves are really helping others……I’ve, been writing since the tender age of 13 and now it’s forever evolving…..Here is my form of encouragement to all mothers who’ve felt as if your time was over! Stay in the race and don’t give in your time in the spotlight is closer then you know…….

    Lyrical Intermission

    The She Influence

    She glides through the everglades

    Mounting on the outskirts of the horizon

    Resting her womb on the banks of the Jordan

    Praising all that heaven has created

    Sorrows submerges her land

    Still Zion yearns for release

    Escaping to safety beyond her bellows

    Birthing nations who find healing in your words

    Reaching for new heights while cascading her dreams beyond

    Lend me your ear as the sights and sounds of womanhood fill the air…copyright@silentwhispersmovement2006

  18. Canadian poet Tom Wayman mentions Billy Collins favorably in the interview I recently did for my blog, which addresses the whole issue of abstraction in poetry. I think you’d enjoy reading Wayman’s perspective, which is refreshing for an academic teaching at a university.

  19. Loved your blog. Lovely to see so many people are returning to poetry. I’ve just started blogging my own poetry – My Life in Poems – and am finding it quite addictive! I had no idea it was Poetry Month. And what a great idea to post a poem every day – we should all follow your example!

  20. It is not highly appreciated because most people don’t read it. Unless you’re an established writer. That’s why publishers turn up their noses at poetry. It lacks commercial demand. I suppose Dr Seuss is an exception.

  21. Impressive reading of a great poem. So many good poetry websites now for poets to post and read. Thanks fellow poets for connecting on Poetic Aside and Poetry Potluck. There are many more good sites also. ENJOY NATIONAL POETRY MONTH AND WRITE A POEM !!!

  22. Very nice video. Our son is the opposite. Hardly speaks anything comprehensible at all, you might think, except if you know him longer, or if you’re lucky. And I wonder if you can really know all these words when you’re three years old, know what they mean. But it’s not really necessary, maybe. Yes, poetry is all around us. Thank you very much!

  23. As a recently graduated mom of toddlers (my boys are now 5 and 7), this post tugged at my heartstrings mightily. Had to tweet this immediately – I saw the delightful humor in Billy Collins’ poem and the 3-year-old’s recitation was stunningly appropriate. Fantastic tribute to National Poetry Month! Thanks also for the heads-up about the video poetry site. Truly made my month.

  24. that young man will be an actor some day! he is wonderful!

    i record poetry (mine and others). it is not half bad. please give a listen at and you tube. just search for my name….lilly

  25. I have given myself a personal challenge to write poetry. I have always wanted to do this but never took the time to put a goal.

    I think poetry is really personal… so thanks for encouraging us. When I am a little braver, I am going to post some poems in my blog.

  26. I want to say that I enjoy your post, but disagree with the interpretation that having such a young child memorizing poetry is opening him up to a world of poetry.

    For myself, poetry is an experience. One lived, one viewed, one missed. A young child can not have an experience of an experience. Though I believe that a passing, general introduction (age appropriate), into poetry would be completely acceptable. I find this young boy reciting this piece nothing more than a parlor trick being directed by a persistent parent.

    Although this is the first post of yours that I have come across, I look forward to looking into your blog further.

  27. That was cute and lovely! 🙂 I also have started to write poetry myself and would love to know people’s opinion. Thank you so much and I hope you can check my blog.

  28. Oh, I must say I just love poetry! And even though I write it myself (you can check out my attempts on my blog if you want;))and passionately read it, I had no slightest idea there is something like the National Poetry Month… Great to know:) I really enjoyed the video, it’s nice to know that even these days when technology dominates every single aspect of our lives, the classical beauty of arts such as poetry is still appreciated.

  29. I recently got to hear Billy Collins give a reading. When he read this one, all I could think of was this little three-year-old! (I posted about him some months ago too – one of my favorites!)

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