Study Guide

Man Listening to Disc Stanza 1

By Billy Collins

Stanza 1

Lines 1-3

This is not bad –
ambling along 44th Street
with Sonny Rollins for company,

  • This poem starts off with a pretty laid back, chilled first line: "This is not bad." This first line hooks us in, because we immediately want to find out more. It raises questions such as: Who is speaking? Who thinks that "This is not bad?" What's "not bad?" 
  • The next couple of lines clue us into the fact that someone (quite possibly our speaker) is "ambling," or walking, along 44th Street.
  • A-ha—we have our first clue about the poem's location. This speaker is walking right through the heart of the Big Apple, along 44th Street in New York, which is midtown Manhattan. (Check out "Setting" for more.) 
  • "Ambling" is an important word because it suggests that the speaker is walking in a relaxed way. He's not stressed. He's chilled. 
  • He also has "Sonny Rollins for company." Who's Sonny Rollins? If you were into jazz, you'd know that Rollins is a famous jazz saxophonist. 
  • This third line raises a question, then. Is the speaker actually walking along with Sonny Rollins? Even though the speaker makes it sound like he might be, we can guess from the title of the poem, "Man Listening to Disc," that he isn't. More likely, he's listening to Sonny Rollins on his headphones. Let's keep reading to see if that's the case.
  • Before we do, though, notice that the length of these lines varies: the first line is short, the next line is longer, the one after is even longer. Plus, there's no rhyme. This means that the poem is written in a form called free verse. Check out "Form and Meter" for more details.
  • Even though these lines are in free verse, we can pick up on some patterns. There's consonance in the second line, with the sounds "l" and "g" each repeated twice. See "Sound Check" for more details.

Lines 4-5

His music flowing through the soft calipers
of these earphones,

  • Yup—these lines make it clear that this speaker is jammin' to some jazz (played by Rollins, of course) as he walks on down the street. 
  • What the heck are "calipers"? They're a tool that measures the distance between two sides of an object (check one out here). Each headphone is on either side of the speaker's head, so the headphones sort of act like their measuring the distance between his ears. 
  • We can find a lot of consonance of the F sound in these two lines, in the words "flowing," "soft" and "earphones" (see "Sound Check" for more). Considering that the speaker is talking about the music "flowing" through to him, the repetition of the F sound here really gives us a sense of that flow.

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