The Old Lover
Anacreon (570-488 B.C.), translated by Thomas Stanley
Though my aged head be grey,
And thy youth more fresh than May,
Fly me not; oh! rather see
In this wreath how gracefully
Roses with pale lilies join:
Learn of them, so let us twine.
Youth and Age
Anacreon (570-488 B.C.) translated by Thomas Stanley
When I see the young men play,
Young methinks I am as they;
And my aged thoughts laid by,
To the dance with joy I fly:
Come, a flowery chaplet lend me;
Youth and mirthful thoughts attend me:
Age be gone, we’ll dance among
Those that young are, and be young:
Bring some wine, boy, fill about;
You shall see the old man’s stout;
Who can laugh and tipple too,
And be mad as well as you.
Maya Angelou (Louis Phillips, ed., The Random House Treasury of Much Loved Poems, 2nd ed. New York: Random House, Inc., 1995, 60.)
When you see me sitting quietly, like a sack upon a shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering. I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me! Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it, otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are stiff and aching and my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor: Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling, don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy and every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then, a little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.
I am old and I have had
more than my share of good and bad.
I’ve had love and sorrow, seen sudden death
and been left alone and of love bereft.
I thought I would never love again
and I thought my life was grief and pain.
The edge between life and death was thin,
but then I discovered discipline.
I learned to smile when I felt sad,
I learned to take the good and the bad,
I learned to care a great deal more
for the world about me than before.
I began to forget the “Me” and “I”
and joined in life as it rolled by:
this may not mean sheer ecstasy
but is better by far than “I” and “Me.”
When I am an Old Woman
I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
and I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
and learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beer mats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple!
Beautiful Old Age
It ought to be lovely to be old
to be full of the peace that comes of experience
and wrinkled ripe fulfilment.
The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life
lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies
they would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins
in their old age.
Soothing, old people should be, like apples
when one is tired of love.
Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft
stillness and satisfaction of autumn.
And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! –
And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it’s been a life!
Contentment in Old Age
Palladas (4th century A.D.), translated by William Roger Paton
The women mock me for being old,
Bidding me look at the wreck of my years in the mirror.
But I, as I approach the end of my life,
Care not whether I have white hair or black,
And with sweet-scented ointments
And crowns of lovely flowers and wine
I make heavy care to cease.
Sonnet 104: To me, fair friend, you never can be old
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah, yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived:
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
The Little Boy and the Old Man
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
I know what you mean,” said the little old man.”
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Little by little the year grows old,
The red leaves drop from the maple boughs;
The sun grows dim, and the winds blow cold,
Down from the distant arctic seas.
Out of the skies the soft light dies,
And the shadows of autumn come creeping over,
And the bee and the bird are no longer heard
In grove or meadow, or field of clover.
Little by little our lives grow old,
Our faces no longer are fair to see;
For gray creeps into the curls of gold,
And the red fades out of the cheeks, ah me!
And the birds that sang till our heart strings rang
With strains of hope, and joy, and pleasure,
Have flown away; and our hearts today
Hear only the weird wind’s solemn measure.
Youth and summer, and beauty and bloom,
Droop and die in the autumn weather,
But up from the gloom of the winter’s tomb,
They shall rise, in God’s good time, together.
We talked with open heart, and tongue
Affectionate and true,
A pair of friends, though I was young,
And Matthew seventy-two.
We lay beneath a spreading oak,
Beside a mossy seat;
And from the turf a fountain broke,
And gurgled at our feet.
“Now, Matthew!” said I, “let us match
This water’s pleasant tune
With some old border-song, or catch
That suits a summer’s noon;
“Or of the church-clock and the chimes
Sing here beneath the shade,
That half-mad thing of witty rhymes
Which you last April made!”
In silence Matthew lay, and eyed
The spring beneath the tree;
And thus the dear old Man replied,
The grey-haired man of glee:
“No check, no stay, this Streamlet fears;
How merrily it goes!
‘Twill murmur on a thousand years,
And flow as now it flows.
“And here, on this delightful day,
I cannot choose but think
How oft, a vigorous man, I lay
Beside this fountain’s brink.
“My eyes are dim with childish tears,
My heart is idly stirred,
For the same sound is in my ears
Which in those days I heard.
“Thus fares it still in our decay:
And yet the wiser mind
Mourns less for what age takes away
Than what it leaves behind.
“The blackbird amid leafy trees,
The lark above the hill,
Let loose their carols when they please,
Are quiet when they will.
“With Nature never do they wage
A foolish strife; they see
A happy youth, and their old age
Is beautiful and free:
“But we are pressed by heavy laws;
And often, glad no more,
We wear a face of joy, because
We have been glad of yore.
“If there be one who need bemoan
His kindred laid in earth,
The household hearts that were his own;
It is the man of mirth.
“My days, my Friend, are almost gone,
My life has been approved,
And many love me; but by none
Am I enough beloved.”
“Now both himself and me he wrongs,
The man who thus complains!
I live and sing my idle songs
Upon these happy plains;
“And, Matthew, for thy children dead
I’ll be a son to thee!”
At this he grasped my hand, and said,
“Alas! that cannot be.”
We rose up from the fountain-side;
And down the smooth descent
Of the green sheep-track did we glide;
And through the wood we went;
And, ere we came to Leonard’s rock,
He sang those witty rhymes
About the crazy old church-clock,
And the bewildered chimes.
When You Are Old
William Butler Yeats (The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats,1989)
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.