(poetry diary 10) Today I was going to write about Philip Larkin’s “The Old Fools,” about aging, as even though it contains images that are helping me process, it’s too brutal for me to think about deeply right now, as it hits too close to things my family is dealing with re: end-of-life issues.
THE OLD FOOLS
What do they think has happened, the old fools,
To make them like this? Do they somehow suppose
It’s more grown-up when your mouth hangs open and drools,
Gack. It’s a strong, honest poem, but, no. Not for me right now.
I like this quote about it by Hilma Wolitzer, though, which I found in the Jane Gross New York Times column “The New Old Age.” Poems on Aging: ‘Not for Sissies’ JANE GROSS -SEPTEMBER 15, 2008
I was much younger when I first read Philip Larkin’s “The Old Fools.” Even my parents were still alive and vibrantly sentient then, and my mind skittered away from thoughts of aging and death — theirs and my own. But as a writer I was struck with admiration and envy by the startling beauty of the poem’s language. I couldn’t (and still can’t) imagine a lovelier or more accurate way to describe existence than “the million-petaled flower of being here.”
I like the idea of a mind “skittering” away from thoughts like that. Maybe that’s one reason why poems that are hard to understand directly can be appealing, as sometimes one’s skittery mind can think about the subject w/out being overwhelmed or overly-freaked out by it, as mine is overwhelmed by “The Old Fools.”
Tonight I instead will think about “Silent Poem” by Robert Francis. It starts:
backroad leafmold stonewall chipmunk
underbrush grapevine woodchuck shadblow
It seems to be only a list of words, until one’s skittery mind starts putting images to the words as one goes…as in the last line:
gravestone groundpine windbreak bedrock
weathercock snowfall starlight cockcrow
That’s all. Good night.