"On Turning Ten" by Billy Collins reveals the thoughts of a young boy about to turn ten. The poem has a few shifts from happy memories of younger years to a foreshadowing of the sadness of being ten.
Let's first look at the positive moments in the poem. Collins writes:
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
The speaker is looking back at past years, remembering games he played and things he imagined. At the time they were very real, though now he is looking at them as play pretend.
I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
This stanza talks about the invincibility of childhood. Back then, there were no fears, but now the speaker is getting older and has fallen enough times that he knows he is not actually invincible. Now he is afraid to ride his bike as fast as possible, because he knows what happens if he falls.
In order to analyze this poem, we also need to look at the overall attitude of the poem. Despite these callbacks to positive moments, the attitude of the poem is sad.
We see this in lines like "the late afternoon light ... never fell so solemnly." The very first stanza explains the feeling of the poem with the lines:
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
In these lines, the speaker is taking physical illnesses and applying them to the emotional fear and dread he now feels. He may have had chicken pox when he was younger. Now he is trying to imagine what could be worse, since the emotions and the uncertainty of growing up seem more intense even than chicken pox.
Up till now, these illnesses may have been the worst thing the speaker had heard of, so he uses them to describe this new fear.
It sets up the tone of the poem, which is fearful and sad and longing for the simpler time.