Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins
Analysis: Sound Check
Billy Collins is known for writing poems that are plain spoken and direct and this poem totally fits the mold.
Overall, the poem basically sounds like everyday speech. In other words, it has a very conversational tone. "Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day," this ain't. "They [began] beating it with a hose to find out what it really [meant]," is a sentence that could be spoken on just about any nightly news broadcast or reality TV show. However, this doesn't mean that Collins has nothing going on in the auditory arena. He is, after all, a poet.
We can see Collins flexing his linguistic muscle (sorry, that seems kind of gross) in the fifth stanza. The repetition of "S" sounds, the consonance, gives this stanza a very slippery sound—almost like skimming (or "waterskiing") across the surface of the water.
We can also see sound at work in the way Collins begins stanzas 1, 3, and 5: "I ask," "I say," "I want." The varied repetition of "I" phrases gives the first five stanzas a slightly incantatory feel—something like the repeated lines of a prayer or a spell: "double, double, toil and trouble." Sure, it's subtle, but it's totally there. Trust Shmoop.