The poem Consolation is written by the famous American poet Billy Collins in 1995. According to the author the poem was written as a consolation for himself after a holiday to Italy regrettable was cancelled for various reasons¹, where he reel off all the negative aspects of travelling, and while doing so making travelling look horrible and making himself feel better.
First of all we should look at the poem on the surface, not considering the irony and humour which is stored beneath the surface. At a first glance the author seems to really dislike everything connected to travelling and gives us numerous examples of things he would be more than happy to avoid, such as; "How agreeable is it not to be touring Italy this summer, wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.", "...there is no need to memorize a succession of kings or tour the dripping corners of dungeons.", and "... slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice...".
As a response to this he gives us examples of what he loves so much about his own country, such as the pleasant feeling of being familiar in his own surroundings, and not being faced with any language barriers and being in full control of the situation. The author also gives us the impression that he is happy living in a quite organized and tedious existence; "I will slide into the flow of the morning paper, all language barriers down, rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way", and that he is so content with this that he does not wish it to change by for example going on holiday.
The tile of the poem is a key element to understand the underlying meaning in the poem, because without this the poem might for many appear to be a tribute to the everyday familiar life. However, as soon as we read the title, it becomes clear that this is in fact something completely different. This poem is presumably written in bitterness aftera cancelled travel which the author had been looking forward to. This is where the irony and humour comes in. By telling us how horrible everything about international travelling is and how much he loves his familiar surroundings, he kind of wishes to tell us the opposite.
If we look away from the irony, his attitude towards travelling seems to be quite determent and it becomes quite clear that he really has a distaste towards anything associated with travelling, such as long walks, language confusion, photographing, and journey writing. Also, he makes fun of the typical tourist loaded to his knees with souvenirs, cameras, guide books, and wrinkled maps, while trying to find his way to some famous attraction.
However, the poem with the underlying irony added to it, expresses another attitude. The author seems bitter and angry for missing his trip to Italy, and tries to make himself feel better by thinking of all the things he does not like that much about travelling. Seeing that the author both enjoys and dislikes travelling to a certain degree, I would say that he has a split attitude towards international travelling. He takes a great deal of pleasure in travelling, but there is certainly thing he could have been without as well.
To create the irony and humour the author uses certain words, terms and sentences which contribute to lighten the poem and make it funny. The first sentence; "How agreeable not to be touring Italy this summer", instantly gives us a sense of the bitterness and this, combined with the feeling that the word agreeable looks out of place, makes it funny. Other examples of phrases which makes the poem funny is; "Napoleon`s little bed on Elba", "Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera eager to eat the world one monument at the time?", and "I will slide into the flow of the morning paper, all language barriers down, rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way".
Clearly the author has a mixed attitude and split feeling about international travel, but I think that is how the case is for the most of us. I can only speak for myself, but I surely, though I enjoy travelling and would love to travel to far-flung corners of the world, there is some parts of the whole process of travelling that I do not enjoy. First of all, I do not like the stress of travelling very much, and I am the kind of person that would be more than happy to avoid the hassle of travelling a long distance during a short period of time.
Besides the meeting with a new language, and new customs and cultures, can be a demanding experience, but still it is so repaying. By travelling to different longitudes than your own, you gain valuable knowledge and widen your horizon. However, there is also a great advantage of travel in your own country, because by doing so preserving your country`s national culture.
There is all sorts of different benefits and disadvantages of international travel, and most of them go both ways. It is for example important to build-up-under the economy and tourist industry in other countries, while still preserving the same in your own country. Diseases is more easily spread by increased international travelling, but maybe this is important to make the world`s population less vulnerable to new diseases. The more people that travel, the more cultural influence they bring with them home from other countries, the more the cultural diversity in our own countries increases. As you can see, the benefits and disadvantages are endless, but I do believe it is important that we keep moving around the world for new bonds to be tied between people and for the world to withstand as one world and a union.
Billy Collins - Consolation