Poetry Friday: “The Brooklyn Museum of Art”

Years ago, when my kids were busy teenagers playing sports, taking music lessons, and all the rest, I heard a report about the danger of velocitization. The idea is that driving too fast on the highway distorts your sense of speed, which can make you drive even faster. The story pointed out the related danger of continuing to drive fast once you were off the highway.

For some reason, I felt like my whole life was velocitized this week. It was an awful feeling.

What better antidote to this feeling than reading poetry? A member of my book club suggested we read a book of poetry, so our selection this month is Sailing Alone Around the Room, by Billy Collins. I read this book years ago, but I’m savoring each poem as I read them again (and again).

“The Brooklyn Museum of Art” is one of my favorites. It has reminded me to put on the brakes and let “birdsong…[halt] me in my tracks”.

“The Brooklyn Museum of Art”
by Billy Collins

I will now step over the soft velvet rope
and walk directly into this massive Hudson River
painting and pick my way along the Palisades
with this stick I snapped off a dead tree.

I will skirt the smoky, nestled towns
and seek the path that leads always outward
until I become lost, without a hope
of ever finding the way back to the museum.

I will stand on the bluffs in nineteenth-century clothes,
a dwarf among rock, hills, and flowing water,
and I will fish from the banks in a straw hat
which will feel like a brush stroke on my head.

And I will hide in the green covers of forests
so no appreciator of Frederick Edwin Church,
leaning over the soft velvet rope,
will spot my tiny figure moving in the stillness
and cry out, pointing for others to see,

and be thought mad and led away to a cell
where there is no vaulting landscape to explore,
none of this birdsong that halts me in my tracks,
and no wide curving of this river that draws
my steps toward the misty vanishing point.

Frederic Edwin Church, 1873, via Wikimedia Commons

Please be sure to visit Linda Baie at Teacher Dance for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

10 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “The Brooklyn Museum of Art”

  1. Velocitization! Now there’s a concept! I’m go glad you shared this Billy Collins poem. I love his work and wasn’t familiar with this poem or the painting. What a delight to consider stepping into the world of a painting. Here’s hoping your week slows down a bit and you have time to listen to more bird song.


  2. “Being” in the picture with the artist is a wonderful thought. I love going to the art museums here, and had one special day at the Nat’l Gallery with my students a few years ago. Fats has some Billy Collins today, too. He brings us extras to notice about our lives we may not have considered before. And I love that new word: ‘Velocitization!’ I’ve not heard of that but some weeks I do seem to be moving faster and faster. Hope your weekend is full of ‘slow’.


  3. Ahh…that is the perfect slow-down for a week (month? entire beginning of school year?) of velocitization. It makes me want to choose a piece of art and imagine my own escape into it. Maybe I’ll try it with my students…


  4. What a fantastic word, that unfortunately sums up our modern lives all too well! The busier we are, the more we seem to take that kind of life for granted as being normal, until finally we just spin out of control. Thank you for the reminder to slow on down, at least every once in a while!


  5. Appreciations for following your speedster week into a poetry exit. I learned (or rather am beginning to learn) to much here today – velocitization, this Billy Collins art poem & this Church painting. Here too is serendipity – yesterday we were walking outside a museum & birds speaking to me made me stop. A flock of sparrows had discovered a very tall American holly in full berry buffet. I didn’t get into the museum (it was late in the day) & I did listen/watch to the holly party .

    Liked by 1 person

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