It's been said that the two keys to happiness are a good appetite and a bad memory. I have never failed to meet the first requirement, and as I proceed into my seventies, I am assured that nature itself will take care of the second. Indeed, as I read the following poem by Billy Collins last night, I felt myself smiling in recognition of the man who is stirred emotionally by a moon that seems to have drifted out of a love poem that he once knew by heart.
The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of.
It is as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.
Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.
It has floated away down the dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.
No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.
There is no need to fret, of course; indeed, for most of us, there are many things that are perhaps best forgotten. As for the other things, it's well to remember (if we can) what Nietzsche said: "The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time."