“On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins

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Billy Collins’ poem “On Turning Ten” is a fun one. It is philosophical about age and discusses the relevancy of thinking about life from adjusting eyes (which I think includes each passing year no matter how old you get). Collins also nails the feeling of being a kid and what matters, especially during the timeframe. Technology was different when I was younger (not for better or worse) so I really identify with his thoughts on looking at the changing colors of his bike or playing fantastical pretend.

It also briefly discusses the condescension that older people often pass onto younger people—a carpe diem mentality that only appears when trying to pass wisdom.

“Enjoy it while you got it and before it’s too late!”

But this sort of wisdom never really sheds any light on the pain we feel when falling upon “the sidewalks of life.” Anyway, I think you will enjoy this poem about reflecting on one’s current moods and maturation because we often forget what it was like the first time we realized that we were getting older.


“On Turning Ten” by Billy Collins


The whole idea of it makes me feel

like I’m coming down with something,

something worse than any stomach ache

or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–

a kind of measles of the spirit,

a mumps of the psyche,

a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,

but that is because you have forgotten

the perfect simplicity of being one

and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.

But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.

At four I was an Arabian wizard.

I could make myself invisible

by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.

At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.


But now I am mostly at the window

watching the late afternoon light.

Back then it never fell so solemnly

against the side of my tree house,

and my bicycle never leaned against the garage

as it does today,

all the dark blue speed drained out of it.


This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,

as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.

It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,

time to turn the first big number.


It seems only yesterday I used to believe

there was nothing under my skin but light.

If you cut me I could shine.

But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,

I skin my knees. I bleed.

(Billy Collins | On Turning Ten)