A Litany of Images

by Olivia Zhu

I wrote a few months ago on May Swenson’s “Untitled,” a love poem filled with the rain of many, many beautiful images. “You have found my root you are the rain,” she says. Today, I found myself caught in a rainstorm, took shelter under a tree, but it came with such a different kind of a feeling that even though my mind went back to Swenson, it seems more fitting to go somewhere new.

Billy Collins’ “Litany” is another poem that’s similar in its saturated nature, where almost every line includes a new metaphor. However, Collins, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, takes a different tack in producing his list of comparisons for his lover. Unlike Jacques Crickillon, whose lines are cited briefly in the epigraph of “Litany,” Collins does not take himself so seriously, and a slightly mocking tone is present throughout his work—a tone that makes it a bit hard to take him seriously while reading the poem, to be perfectly honest. A video of him reading invites friendly laughter from the audience as well:

Even the title of the poem is irreverent: litany can refer to either types of religious prayers involving petitions or to a long and tedious listing of items. Either seems to fit, as Collins may very well be petitioning his lover with his plaintive and sometimes appeasing comparisons or demonstrating to the reader that a recitation of several metaphors in a row is an overused and ineffective poetic technique.

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