Monday, March 16, 2015

Ode to Old: Aging as Poetry

There are many great, and not so great, poems about getting older.  From the timeless classic There Was An Old Woman, to the epic Ulysses, poets throughout the ages have given us their unique views on aging. (If you have not recited the Mother Goose poem lately, may I refresh your memory?  Apparently, she did “know what to do” with her many children which was to “whip them all soundly and put them to bed.” Yikes!) 
My personal favorite is T.S. Eliot’s, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  It’s fascinating to see how Prufrock, or, J.A. P-Rock as he is known by the hip-hop crowd, is able to pass through so many of the perils and pitfalls of going gray.  At the same time, there is a hint of expectation and perhaps even fascination with the process.  Hard to not feel for J.A. when he frets, “And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair.”  Who among us has not played the Fool and felt “Politic, cautious, and meticulous?”
What I love most about this particular poem is how it pushes the level of introspection to the point of absurdity. “Disturb the universe,” really?  Chill out Alfie!  Why the heaviness? Who cares if the sea girls aren’t singing to you?  Slow down and eat that peach!

That verses dedicated to aging often take on the form of a lament, rather than exaltation, should not be a surprise.   In most cases, they were written from a cultural standpoint that getting older is equated with loss.  It’s hard, for the Western mind at least, to associate the inevitable contraction of life with happy times.  Or, in other words, watch out lest Andrew Marvell's "Time's winged chariot" run you over.
What if this was not the case?  What if our societal Zeitgeist about aging was not the “dying of the light,” to quote Dylan Thomas, but, as the poet Tagore suggests, “the putting out of a lamp because the dawn has come.”?  What types of poems would result from viewing turning gray in the same manner we view the turning of the seasons?  Equally important, what if we could drop some of the neurotic tensions that often accompany us as we grow older and replace them with neurotic musings.  Well, it might go something like this:

Ode to Old

The hands of time turning
Waving goodbye
Or applauding

The clock of life unwinding

Past and future tense dissolving
Present tense evolving

Delicate not brittle
Simplified not simple

The spice of life
Mindful and well-reasoned

Wonderfully wandering
Whimsically pondering

The hands of the timeless
Waving goodbye
Or applauding?

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