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Marginalia Analysis

Author: poem of Billy Collins Type: poem Views: 3

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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 managed 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."


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| Posted on 2017-01-22 | by a guest

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I've always felt that marginalia is like moonlight -- reflected "light" by which we, the present readers, can see previous readers (moon(s)) "illuminated" by the author's (the sun) "light" (insight). Why then, I wonder, does he only mention sunlight (monk's windows) and a "hot summer day," with no evening imagery at all?

| Posted on 2010-06-28 | by a guest

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Margins give a place to fill with our own reactions to writing. These feelings come good or bad. The true challenge to an author is to bring out these emotions because it is these that move a person, not just the text on the page.

| Posted on 2008-12-31 | by a guest

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This poem has only one true meaning and it is that that most of us are familiar with in our everyday reading of litterature... the art of writing in the margin.

| Posted on 2008-07-27 | by a guest

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