What are the recurring themes in your poetry?
Billy Collins: I mean, the theme of poetry is death. The theme of literature is essentially misery leading to death. They asked Freud, “What is the aim of life?” Death is what he says. So that’s the subject of poetry. Mortality is the overarching subject of poetry. I mean some would say love is the subject of poetry, but it’s usually love in the context of death. Like the great poem by Andrew Marvell to his coy mistress, and the reason they should make love is because they’re not going to live forever. And the oldest theme in poetry is “carpe diem”. It’s seize the day. And the reason you want to “carpe” your “diems” is that you don’t have that many “diems” given to you! So this urgency that floods into your life when you see it through this lens of death . . . I mean, that seems to be the basic theme of poetry. And my poetry is no different.
Recorded on: July 4, 2007