Posted by: John Looker | 23 August, 2013

Old Age Becomes Him

.

Old Age Becomes Him.
i.m. S.A.S.

“Old age”, we could have said, “rather becomes him”.
He presided over his growing tribe, benign
and biblical, disbursing gifts and gentle advice
that nobody kept in mind

(but how he would be mourned!).

Asbestos fibres were such a practical aid
but over the years they had filed themselves away
like IOUs in the cupboards and drawers of his lungs;
at last it was time to pay

                    and the signs began to appear 

to all but him. Irrepressible still,
he’d smile and offer you a glass of beer or wine.

“They don’t know what they’re talking about!” he’d say,
pausing for breath. “I’m fine;

I sleep and I have no pain”.

He did what he’d always done: kept trekking on
one foot in front of the other day by day
towards the frozen north, beneath a sky 
heavier now and grey, 

until he could drag his feet no more 
and stopped, ready to agree. 

.

© John Stevens 2013

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Responses

  1. I find this a very touching portrait, John. The word “becomes” allows for so many levels of meaning….as in “old age is suitably attractive” in a person or a person suffers the process of becoming old, or even that a person becomes age itself…..it becomes him and , for others, he becomes it. Touches like “nobody kept in mind…(but…) and “stopped, ready to agree are poignant in their reticence. I see you have placed this poem in your “circumnavigation death” category. I wonder if it would also fit with “

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  2. This thing posted before I did….I only meant to say that I see you placed this in your “Circumnavigating a Death” category, and wonder whether or not it would also fit with True North….

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    • Thank you for those kind words, Cynthia. In fact, I almost classified this one under True North myself, but I have other plans for that category.

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  3. Hi John,
    This is another beautiful poem.
    Circumnavigating a death , that is a good name for a category 🙂 One day we must all agree I suppose. Age becomes a person, I like the double meaning here, very becoming 🙂

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  4. A great tribute John. Having recently lost my mother, the lines about the unheeded advice hits close to home. I seem to be listening to her voice more now than when she was alive. Maybe we pay closer attention to reflections because we are forced to decipher the details more. Who knows. I admire your work.

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    • It is interesting to read these thoughts of yours, Fred – thank you

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  5. We could have said it, this ‘old age becomes him’—but presumably we didn’t, not quite. We smiled and tolerated his supposed wisdom. Would it be fair to say, we humored him? Robert Frost lives! We think we have a poem about an older, rather nice old man, and we do…but, somehow I think this poem is really about the speaker of this poem. We don’t really penetrate the old boy. We can infer a lot, but this reticence might suggest more perspicuity than the narrator is willing to grant. I remember talking with my mother when she was dying. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when people say, ‘how are you?’ they don’t really want a report on your health. And they sure as hell don’t want to know what dying is like.
    “They don’t know what they’re talking about!” he’d say,
    pausing for breath. “I’m fine;
    Yet we might find a clue in that fine stanza:
    He did what he’d always done: kept trekking on
    one foot in front of the other day by day
    towards the frozen north, beneath a sky
    heavier now and grey…
    Our rather conventional narrator has grown abstract and allegorical. Let’s put on ‘Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’. It will be wonderfully inappropriate on a late summer’s eve.
    By the way, I went back and read ‘Circumnavigating a Death.’ Such a great title. And poem.
    I also like Ina’s thought: Age becomes a person. I might borrow that one someday, Ina. It would be quite interesting to have a conversation with that chap.

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  6. You are getting me to see my own poem through different eyes Jim, which is highly instructive – thank you for that, and for your interest in this and the Circumnavigating poem.

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  7. wow, John – what a moving piece this one is – you just nailed it with that last stanza

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  8. That’s very generous Sarah; thank you.

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  9. The use of punctuation to tell the tale is remarkable. Interplay of full stops, line endings, and sense — worth pondering. Seeing the poem in this abstract pattern enhances my appreciation of the achievement.

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  10. Your blog wouldn’t let me reply but I love this xx

    Sent from my iPhone

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    • Thanks for commenting Alice – I’m really delighted. Dxx

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  11. Hello John. What is the i.m. S.A.S.? in red?
    I want to know who this wise, old, stubborn man is, but I think I may know him. He reminds me of my Grandmother who also eventually “stopped, ready to agree,” but too late. She was a chain smoker. I enjoyed this poem for the personal connection it inspired, but also for how it is written, organized spatially and grammatically. I don’t feel I have the same freedom because my blog (the text box) doesn’t allow for such freedom of expression.

    The poem just sings in last stanza:

    He did what he’d always done: kept trekking on
    one foot in front of the other day by day
    towards the frozen north, beneath a sky
    heavier now and grey,

    until he could drag his feet no more
    and stopped, ready to agree.

    …the frozen north, heavier sky and grey…and the weight that the last line carries because of the earlier stanzas. Ah.

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    • It was written in memory of my own father. I wasn’t sure whether he would have liked me to post it, but in the end thought it was of sufficient general relevance, and the fact that it put you in mind of your own grandmother, Anna, reassures me on that. Thank you for your very kind remarks.
      I agree that WordPress is unhelpful to the arrangement of poetry on the page. I’ve slowly acquired a number of dodges. It doesn’t like indents, so I use the space bar; nor does it accept extra spaces after a title or the end of a poem, so I put in a line with a single dot and colour that dot white.

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      • I will read the poem again, knowing that it was written in memory of your Dad will change the quality of my reading which is an experience I often enjoy.

        Excellent dodges! Thanks!!

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  12. I admire both the wonderful poem, and the man you’re writing about (which I see from above was your father). He must’ve been very noble and strong, among many other positive qualities. (My belated condolences to you, John.)

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    • That’s very kind of you Betty – thank you!

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  13. P.S. John, I read your comment to Anna about WP formatting. WP never leaves the spaces I need either, so a single dot has always been necessary. It never occurred to me to color it white! I just tried it with most recent post and it looks so much cleaner – thank you for inadvertently helping me with that. (Now to go back and clean up older posts that are filled with those pesky dots! 🙂 )

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  14. Love the movement in the poem (eh hem), the fORM, the ending.

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    • Thank you so much.

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      • Thanks for following back, JS. Again, you threw me in for a loop – happened to hit upon the hymn ousted by the noise we call music nowadays, the hymn I hold in such high regard. I’ve been pleased with the discipline evident in your writing. See you…around the corner.

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  15. A beautiful memoriam for your father, John. It touched me deeply because it reminded me of my husband. Your words :-
    …kept trekking on
    one foot in front of the other day by day
    spoke to me of Rod. He too kept going on, saying he was fine. Then without warning, he collapsed one evening and died in my arms at age 63.

    Even though I started to follow your blog some time ago I’ve not been getting posts. I’m a computer doofus who’s trying to learn the ways of the web. I just discovered a ‘managing your site’ thingy where it tells me although I’m following people I’m not getting emails from some. I shall try to correct this as I find your poetry moving and inspiring.
    Tricia

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  16. The loss of your husband like that must have been very hard indeed, Tricia. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and I am honoured to think that my poem touched you in that way.
    I’m also delighted that you’ve been trying to follow my blog. You can find an icon to click on for email notifications: on a laptop it appears in the right hand column; on a cell phone you get to it by scrolling down – rather a long way! All the best, John.

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