Music: We’ll hear strains from “Old Man River,”
16 Tons (ya load sixteen tons, what’ya get, another day older and deeper in debt), Paul Simon, “Still Crazy” (after all these years), Jacques Brel, The Old Folks
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now is hung with bloom along the bough . . . Of my threescore years and ten, twenty will not come again, and so, says poet A.E. Housman, about the woodland I will go, to see the cherry hung with snow. Taking his cue for how long he can expect to live from Psalms (“the days of our years threescore years and ten”), Housman wants to do justice to the gift of consciousness while he has the chance. He will go to nature with an attitude of beholding its loveliness—while he still can. And indeed, look at the ways age is depicted, enfeebled, pathetic, whether from the Sphinx, or Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” speech by wise Jacques the Clown in As You Like It, or King Lear, or the sonnets, such as “That time of year thou mayest in me behold” (73), or T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, or Yeats’ pathetic old man, that “paltry thing” . . . John Wieners’ poem on aging . . . Milton . . . Dante . . . and maybe that’s why Judith Viorst, wise author of such children’s favs as Alexander and his No Good Terrible Horrible Day, writes on turning eighty, Unexpectedly Eighty. Who knew? We turn to the poets to learn what to expect, actually. Perhaps we will live differently if we know what is possible to experience as we age . . . .
Well, Poetry Slow Down, as we are dedicated to news we need to live, news delivered to us daily in poetry, by oracles and heralds, we are heeding news from the frontiers of human development, what poets write beyond threescore years and ten. What can we learn from people who are at the outposts, forward observers mapping the terrain? And what is marvelous is our chance to compare what poets said about aging before the threescore years and ten framework, and in their actual seventies, eighties, nineties, and more. We will consider early and late poems of T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Shakespeare, and in a dual-show series, works by W.S. Merwin, Stanley Kunitz, May Sarton, Sandra Gilbert, Charles Wright, Ruth Stone, and more! We’ll see what impact aging has on one’s perspective from living fourscore and seven years, more or less. In the words of someone who considered himself one of the greatest wise guys, Muhammad-I’m-the-greatest-Ali (reminding me of my father, when I would say to him indignantly, “that’s just your opinion!”—“ And one that I value most highly,” he would say), “The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”
What do people learn? We’ll hear poets engage with life’s meaning from the experiential altitudes, even with complaints and sighs, with a rigor and vigor and spirit of zest and defiance and love sweet love.
© Barbara Mossberg 2011