Wed 13 Nov, 2002 09:21 am
Amimas Hominis XIII
"A poet, when he is growing old, will ask himself if he cannot keep his mask and his vision without new bitterness, new disappointment. Could he if he would, knowing how frail his vigour from youth up, copy Landor who lived loving and hating, ridiculous and unconquered, into extreme old age, all lost but the favour of his muses?
'The mother of the muses we are taught
Is memory; she has left me; they remain
And shake my shoulder urging me to sing.'
(from "Memory" by Walter Savage Landor)
Surely, he may think, now that I have found vision and mask I need not suffer any longer. He will buy perhaps some small old house where like Ariosto he can dig his garden, and think that in the return of birds and leaves, or moon and sun, and in the evening flight of the rooks he may discover rhythm and pattern like those in sleep and so never awake out of vision. Then he will remember Wordsworth withering into eighty years, honoured and empty-witted, and climb to some waste room and find, forgotten there by youth, some bitter crust."
From Per Amica Silentia Lunae
William Butler Yeats
IT seems particularly hard for a poet to rest on his laurels. They do not sit easy on those broad-browed heads. Maybe it is better to be discovered posthumously and not have that pressure.
I knew ESVM had a poem which offers a similar sentiment.
TO A POET THAT DIED YOUNG
Minstrel, what have you to do
With this man that, after you,
Sharing not your happy fate,
Sat as England's Laureate?
Vainly, in these iron days,
Strives the poet in your praise,
Minstrel, by whose singing side
Beauty walked, until you died.
Still, though none should hark again,
Drones the blue-fly in the pane,
Thickly crusts the blackest moss,
Blows the rose its musk across,
Floats the boat that is forgot
None the less to Camelot.
Many a bard's untimely death
Lends unto his verses breath;
Here's a song was never sung:
Growing old is dying young.
Minstrel, what is this to you:
That a man you never knew,
When your grave was far and green,
Sat and gossipped with a queen?
Thalia knows how rare a thing
Is it, to grow old and sing;
When a brown and tepid tide
Closes in on every side.
Who shall say if Shelley's gold
Had withstood it to grow old?
Indeed she did, and she put it very well, too.
I think it is not just poets. There are the sad stories of authors whose last books are not worth the paper, of actors who can't keep up, comics who are no longer funny and musicians whose voices or new music no longer cuts the mustard. I won't even discuss sports heroes. Is it the thought that poetry, being cerebral, should remain the last art for the elderly? They should know more, rhyme better, etc...
Fact is, it's hell growing old.