Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Poetry: Growing Old

The older I get, the more I think on the ever expanding thing we call the past.  And that thing we call the future seems to shrink before us.

Byron was a true hedonist, but the thrill of that melts away as the body, the vessel of pleasure, starts to wear away like old wineskins.  Byron reflects on turning 30 and his misspent youth.  Like Shelley in "Ozymandias," he sees great waste in the pursuit of fame.  But I can't tell if Byron is being ironic with his last line about "read you Bible and mind your purse."  He could be simply showing he's become an old foggie by repeating the aphorisms of the aged.  Or he could be serious in how he now sees wisdom in those who told him to mind for the future and think on God.

Growing Old

But now at thirty years my hair is grey—
     (I wonder what it will be like at forty ?
I thought of a peruke the other day—)
     My heart is not much greener ; and, in short, I
Have squandered my whole summer while ’twas May,
     And feel no more the spirit to retort ; I
Have spent my life, both interest and principal,
And deem not, what I deemed, my soul invincible.
No more—no more—Oh ! never more on me
     The freshness of the heart can fall like dew,
Which out of all the lovely things we see
     Extracts emotions beautiful and new ;
Hived in our bosoms like the bag o’ the bee.
     Think’st thou the honey with those objects grew ?
Alas ! ’twas not in them, but in thy power
To double even the sweetness of a flower.
No more—no more—Oh! never more my heart,
     Canst thou be my sole world, my universe !
Once all in all, but now a thing apart,
     Thou canst not be my blessing or my curse :
The illusion’s gone for ever, and thou art
     Insensible, I trust, but none the worse,
And in thy stead I’ve got a deal of judgement,
Thou Heaven knows how it ever found a lodgement.
My days of love are over ; me no more
     The charms of maid, wife, and still less of widow,
Can make the fool of which they made before,—
     In short, I must not lead the life I did do ;
The credulous hope of mutual minds is o’er,
     The copious use of claret is forbid too,
So for a good old-gentlemanly vice,
I think I must take up with avarice.
Ambition was my idol, which was broken
     Before the shrines of Sorrow, and of Pleasure ;
And the two last have left me many a token
     O’er which reflection may be made at leisure :
Now, like Friar Bacon’s Brazen Head, I’ve spoken,
     ‘Time is, Time was, Time’s past’ : a chymic treasure
Is glittering Youth, which I have spent betimes—
My heart in passion, and my head on rhymes.
What is the end of Fame ? ’tis but to fill
     A certain portion of uncertain paper :
Some liken it to climbing up a hill,
     Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour ;
For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill,
     And bards burn what they call their ‘midnight taper’,
To have, when the original is dust,
A name, a wretched picture and worse bust.
What are the hopes of man ? Old Egypt’s King
     Cheops erected the first Pyramid
And largest, thinking it was just the thing
     To keep his memory whole, and mummy hid ;
But somebody or other rummaging,
     Burglariously broke his coffin’s lid :
Let not a monument give you or me hopes,
Since not a pinch of dust remains of Cheops.
But I, being fond of true philosophy,
     Say very often to myself, ‘Alas!
All things that have been born were born to die,
     And flesh (which Death mows down to hay) is grass ;
You’ve passed your youth not so unpleasantly,
     And if you had it o’er again—’twould pass—
So thank your stars that matters are no worse,
And read your Bible, sir, and mind your purse.’

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