At Eternity's Gate, 1890 by Vincent Van Gogh
Courtesy of www.VincentVanGogh.org
The old year is often symbolized by an old man (or should I be political correct and say a “senior citizen” or “a mam of a certain age”??). The new year is symbolized by a baby. On the other hand, January was named for Janus, a Roman god with two faces, one looking back and one looking ahead. So maybe it isn’t inappropriate to start out the new year reading and writing poems about aging.
Vincent Van Gogh painted an older man with his head in his hands (see above). You might consider this painting depressing, suggesting that the man is distraught, perhaps alone and lonely. However, Van Gogh wrote that his intention was “to express the special mood of Christmas and New Year. ... Leaving aside whether or not one agrees with the form, it's something one respects if it's sincere, and for my part I can fully share in it and even feel a need for it, at least in the sense that, just as much as an old man of that kind, I have a feeling of belief in something on high even if I don't know exactly who or what will be there.”
There is a fire in the hearth. The man appears to have warm clothing and a good pair of shoes. If we look at the painting after reading the artist’s statement, we might reimagine what he is thinking and experiencing.
Aging has been a popular subject for poets for a long time. Especially, I suspect, for aging poets. And aren’t we all again? From the time we are born we begin getting older. Here is a collection of poems in a variety of moods and styles, from a variety of times and places. Which ones speak most to you—a more serious poem or a humorous one?
Now when we kiss
our eyeglasses click.
This is a function of age.
I have become even more nearsighted,
You hold me at
peering across the silent fires.
I pull you closer, squint into your body
like a spent match.
And now when we
more flesh is felt
as gravity and weight
pull us towards the earth
from which we were made.
The slow, deep
finds the point at which we focus,
the middle ground where your sight
touches my own myopic vision,
the moment evening becomes night,
where we find the moon’s perspective.
Now when we kiss
our eyeglasses catch,
the sad plastic of old passion
~ Donna Pucciani
The poem first appeared in Clark Street Review, then in Donna Pucciani, Hanging Like Hope on the Equinox (Chicago: Virtual Artists Collective, 2013).
Suddenly I’m Old
Once upon a time
I climbed extension ladders
to clean the gutters,
lugged miles of laundry
up and down the basement stairs
to dry in the sun.
My mind’s a zipper
gliding up and down the years
better than ever.
But I look at steps
and my feet don’t have a clue
what to even do.
All those years and years
taking ankles for granted –
suddenly I’m old.
~ Cindy Guentherman
In Days to
(To J. W. R.)
In days to come,
when you and I
Wax faint and frail, and heartfires die,
And tinkling rhymes no more obey
The wooding lips of yesterday,
How slowly will the hours go by.
When we have
drained our song-cups dry,
My comrade, shall we sit and sigh,
Childlike, o’er joys too sweet to stay,
In days to come!
Nay, nay! we’ll
give old time the lie,
And, thatched with three score years, we’ll try
A rondeau or a roundelay,
As long as any lute-string may,
To our light touches, make reply—
In days to come.
~ James Newton Matthews
From James Newton Matthews, Tempe Vale and Other Poems (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1883), page 190.
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!
~ D. H. Lawrence
This poem is in the public domain.
And a different take from Nicole Callräm:
a gray hair-
I’m having a hard
time with this aging thing
it’s not feminist or woke
but I feel like I am disappearing…
I found a gray hair
on my head and now
I’m feeling jealous of men
stupid silver foxes
steeped in that age = increasing power thing
aged scotches of the world
vintage Rolexes and shit
I’m all in on this
giving that easy confidence some serious side-eye
I’ve started fantasizing about being a man
--for a day, maybe two
I want to be a big boy…nice
not because I want to have a man’s body
I already know how that hardware works
I just want to feel it…
the experience, I mean
I want the bromance
I want to interact with women
walk into any space
hold court like the sultan I am
another man in a man’s world
(this daydream also
has ulterior motives)
I want to see how you react to me in this man body
will your eyes feel the same on my skin?
will I make you feel small
or will you still vibrate through my entire universe?
when I talk to you
will your breath still catch in your throat?
will you look down, tugging at the hem of your sleeve
a half smile on those lips
in that heart-stopping shy way that murders me?
I am dying to know.
you see, I haven’t told you about this gray hair yet,
I’d like to see first how you react to it when I’m a man
my woman’s ego is still reeling from the discovery.
~ Nicole Callräm
This poem was published in Rat’s Ass Review (Winter 2021) and can be found at http://ratsassreview.net/?page_id=3927&fbclid=IwAR206xQowDTZMTyoexduBa0gJTbLdlHSd6XV8SVLDU-U0Ks0f4QUzGpncCw#Carlisle2.
And finally, a parody:
We Real Old (after Gwendolyn Brooks)
The Breakfast Eaters:
Seven and the Golden Waffle
We real old. We
Catch cold. We
Take pills. We
Change wills. We
Can’t hear. We
Crave beer. We
Eat prune. We
~ Marilyn L Taylor
From Marilyn L. Taylor, Step on a Crack (Kelsay Books, 2016).
Some Poems on Aging You Can Find On-Line
“The Golden Years”
by Lori Levy who would “rather talk about pumpkin spiced latte / than aging”
can be found at http://quillandparchment.com/archives/June2021/gold.html.
Find “Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five” by David Budbill at https://www.garrisonkeillor.com/radio/twa-the-writers-almanac-for-june-27-2021/?goal=0_c98caf23a9-9d5802e19f-66602521&mc_cid=9d5802e19f&mc_eid=dc48e557c7
The January Challenge:
The challenge for this month is a poem about aging. Your poem may be serious or humorous. Use your imagination! Note that the blog format does not accommodate shaped poems or long lines; if they are used, they have to be broken in two, with the second part indented (as in the poem “Lilith,” one of the May 2018 winners), or the post has to use small print.
1-Title your poem unless it is in a form that discourages titles.
3-Put your name, a brief third-person bio, and your email address in that order under your poem. If the poem has been previously published, please put the publication data under the poem also.
4-Please keep the poem on the left margin (standard 1” margin). Do not put any part of your submission on a colored background. Do not use a fancy font and do not use a header or footer.
5-You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet. Poems already used on this blog are not eligible to win, but the poets may submit a different poem, unless the poet has been a winner the all of the last three months.
6-The deadline is January 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however, winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language (some children and teens read this blog).
7- No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published.
8-The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.
9-Decision of the judge or judges is final.
10-If the same poet wins three months in a row (which has not happened thus far), he or she will be asked not to submit the following two months.
How to Submit Your Poem:
1-Send one poem only to wildamorris4[at]gmail[dot]com (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). The poem must respond in some way to the specific challenge for the month.
2-Put “January Poetry Challenge Submission” FOLLOWED BY YOUR NAME in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month.
3-Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win at the end of the poem.
4-Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment or both (Doc, Docx, rich text or plain text; no pdf files, please). Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). 6-Also, please do not use multiple spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However, I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.
Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.
Nicole Callräm is a nomadic bureaucrat and disciple of existence in all her life-affirming and confusing manifestations. She adores rideshare bikes, red wine, and Osmanthus flowers (preferably a mix of the three...all at once). Nicole has been published in A Shanghai Poetry Zine, Nude Studio, Kissing Dynamite, and Alluvium. You can find her on Twitter at @YiminNicole.
Cindy Guentherman has been writing poetry since she was in kindergarten. She has two books of poetry and is on the board of the Rockford Writers' Guild.
D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence (1885-1930) is one of the most influential writers of the 1900s, known for his poetry, novels, short stories, nonfiction, travel writing, and his letters. He also wrote plays and literary criticism. He was born in England but lived much of his adult life abroad. Some of his writings (and paintings) were considered pornographic when they were published, but are more acceptable now.
James Newton Matthews (1852-1910) was a poet and a country doctor. He was encouraged to give up his medical practice and go on the road as an entertainer, reading his poetry for the enjoyment of audiences, but declined to do so. He helped bring Paul Laurence Dunbar to the attention of the literary world, and carried on an extensive correspondence with James Whitcomb Riley. Numerous other well-known writers of the day visited his home in Mason, Illinois.
Marilyn L. Taylor, who taught poetry for the English Department and the Honors College of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for many years, served as the Poet Laureate of Milwaukee (2004-2005) and as Poet Laureate of the state of Wisconsin (2009-2010). She is a popular workshop leader and author of a number of books of poetry. Learn more about her at https://www.mltpoet.com/about-marilyn/.
Donna Pucciani has a Ph.D. in Humanities from NYU and taught at the high school and college level for several decades. She is the author of six books and three chapbooks of poetry. Now retired from teaching, she lives in Wheaton and continues to write.
© Wilda Morris