December 18, 2012

Year-end Update: Aging and Me . . . and Us

Morituri Salutamus

But why, you ask me, should this tale be told
To men grown old, or who are growing old?
It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late
Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.
Cato learned Greek at eighty; Sophocles
Wrote his grand Oedipus, and Simonides
Bore off the prize of verse from his compeers,
When each had numbered more than fourscore years,
And Theophrastus, at fourscore and ten,
Had but begun his "Characters of Men."
Chaucer, at Woodstock with the nightingales,
At sixty wrote the Canterbury Tales;
Goethe at Weimar, toiling to the last,
Completed Faust when eighty years were past.
These are indeed exceptions; but they show
How far the gulf-stream of our youth may flow
Into the arctic regions of our lives,
Where little else than life itself survives.

As the barometer foretells the storm
While still the skies are clear, the weather warm
So something in us, as old age draws near,
Betrays the pressure of the atmosphere.
The nimble mercury, ere we are aware,
Descends the elastic ladder of the air;
The telltale blood in artery and vein
Sinks from its higher levels in the brain;
Whatever poet, orator, or sage
May say of it, old age is still old age.
It is the waning, not the crescent moon;
The dusk of evening, not the blaze of noon;
It is not strength, but weakness; not desire,
But its surcease; not the fierce heat of fire,
The burning and consuming element,
But that of ashes and of embers spent,
In which some living sparks we still discern,
Enough to warm, but not enough to burn.

What then? Shall we sit idly down and say
The night hath come; it is no longer day?
The night hath not yet come; we are not quite
Cut off from labor by the failing light;
Something remains for us to do or dare;
Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear;
Not Oedipus Coloneus, or Greek Ode,
Or tales of pilgrims that one morning rode
Out of the gateway of the Tabard Inn,
But other something, would we but begin;
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
[These are the final stanzas in a poem written and delivered by Longfellow on the occasion of  the 50th reunion of his 1825 class at Bowdoin College.  The title refers to the popular myth that the Roman gladiators, facing death in the arena, cried "O Ceasar, we who are about to die, salute you."]
An aged man is but a paltry thing.
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress.
W.B. Yeats
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Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter.
T.S.  Eliot

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Everything must be learned, from talking to dying.
Gustave Flaubert

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However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names . . . 
Love your life poor as it is.
Henry Thoreau

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To know how to grow old is the masterwork of wisdom
and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living,
Henri Amiel

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Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, 
beautiful old people are works of art.
Eleanor Roosevelt

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