Billy Collins’ “The Lanyard”

This is clip, Billy Collins recite his own poem, which may sound dull and monotonic at first, but later display its humor through the words of the poem. (Skip to 0:50)

Collin’s simplistic style is inherent in the poem, “The Lanyard”, in which he combines humor and a slice of life moment into a wistful and nostalgic fusion. His juxtaposition of a lanyard, a seemingly pointless gift with no purpose, to the gift of life given by his mother, portrays the complexity of a mother’s unconditional love for her children. Billy Collins’ simple syntax and diction makes it easier for the reader to grasp the underlying meaning of his poem. So, rather than using complicated vocabulary and confusing structure, Collins directly communicates to the readers without needing to make the reader read the poem over and over again. Therefore, he universalizes the concept of a mother’s unconditional love through this simple anecdote of a child making a lanyard “with a little help from a counselor” for his mom.

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

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This entry was posted in AP Mindset, Honors English III, Humor, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Billy Collins’ “The Lanyard”

  1. jillianhaywood says:

    Patrick’s concluding sentence illuminates Collins’ talent and thoughtfulness in creating a poem that many can understand and enjoy.

  2. beans11 says:

    The second sentence in this post analyzes Collins’ poetic devices as well as his opinions on mothers portrayed in the poem that are ultimately universally relatable.

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