That's what one of the few magazines I still insist upon reading in print, The New York Review of Books, reports.
A short trip around the internet tells us that it is organized by the Academy of American Poets. The current U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, tell us
“Poetry surprises and deepens our sense of the ordinary. Poetry tells us that the world is full of wonder, revelation, consolation, and meaning.”
Indeed, and that makes it a good reason, I think, to celebrate ageing in poetry as there is hardly a poet who has ever lived who did not, both in youth and old age, tackle the phenomenon of growing old.
Is, perhaps, Shakespeare's sonnet, The Ages of Man speech from “As You Like It” (also known as All the World's a Stage), the most well known poem on the subject? The last three lines are killers.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Some others take a more humorous approach than Shakespeare. A man named Denny Davis collects poems, quotations, scrapbook items and all manner of interesting things on his website. I could have written this poem, My Rememberer, myself as I'm pretty sure many of you might have:
My forgetter's getting better
But my rememberer is broke
To you that may seem funny
But, to me, that is no joke.
For when I'm 'here' I'm wondering
If I really should be 'there'
And, when I try to think it through,
I haven't got a prayer!
Often times I walk into a room,
Say "what am I here for?"
I wrack my brain, but all in vain
A zero, is my score.
At times I put something away
Where it is safe, but, Gee!
The person it is safest from
Is, generally, me!
When shopping I may see someone,
Say "Hi" and have a chat,
Then, when the person walks away
I ask myself, "who was that?"
Yes, my forgetter's getting better
While my rememberer is broke,
And it's driving me plumb crazy
And that isn't any joke.
P.S. Send this to everyone you know because I don't remember who sent it to me! (noted Denny)
From 1927, I've selected W.B. Yeats' well-known classic, Sailing to Byzantium, written when he was in his early sixties. It is about asking the sages of Byzantium to teach him acceptance of old age.
A few years later, Yeats wrote about this poem in a radio script:
'I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts about that subject I have put into a poem called Sailing to Byzantium.
Here is Sailing to Byzantium with that opening sentence that has been made noteworthy in our era for the book and the film of the same name.
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
It's been a long while since I've written of poems about old age and in honor of the beginning of National Poetry Month, I think we should all get in on the act this time.
Do you have a favorite? Is there one that has given you new insight into your later years? Or maybe you have written one yourself.
If so, post it in the comments below. If there is something you'd like to tell us about it first, certainly do that. All I ask is that you leave a line space between stanzas for ease of reading - if that is how the poet meant it to be.
Other than that, length doesn't matter; there is infinite space on the internet and of course, it does not have to be from an American poet.
In celebration of the U.S. National Poetry Month, The New York Review of Books is holding a sale – 30 percent off on selected poetry books. You'll find them here.