The Lecture

By Billy Collins

Featured art: Wrestlers by Thomas Eakins

If all of time were poured into a salt shaker,
human history could be represented by a single grain,
the professor of astrophysics claimed
as a shaft of light illuminated his head,

leaving me to marvel at how
there would be room inside for everyone—
for Mary Magdalene and Isaac Newton
and every month of the Hundred Years’ War,

and Andrew Marvell would have a place to think,
a garden in which to dwell,
and you would be in there as well
and your ex-boyfriend, the cheap bastard,

with his ridiculous sports car parked by a lake
in some small boring town and me
shaking the shaker furiously
over a plate of blackened fish and boiled potatoes.


Billy Collins’s latest collection is Whale Day (Random House 2020). He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Originally published in NOR 9 Spring 2011

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