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Featured Poem: Beautiful Old Age by D. H. Lawrence

Written by Rachael Norris, 20th January 2020

This week's Featured Poem is Beautiful Old Age by David Herbert Lawrence, chosen by The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Natalie Kaas-Pontoppidan.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a Shared Reading group in a care home. The group was reading this week’s Featured Poem, Beautiful Old Age, by D.H. Lawrence, and throughout the first reading many of the group members were laughing out loud due to the comparison between the apple and old age. However, reading it aloud a second time, the Reader Leader encouraged us to think about the word ‘ought’. ‘It ought to be lovely to be old’ – not ‘It is lovely to be old’. What do we make of that? In fact, there are quite a few ‘should’ and ‘should be’ in this poem, which makes you wonder what old age actually is? And perhaps why there’s a need for an ‘ought’?

Following on from that, a group member read the poem a third time, and said that it made her feel quite upset. She didn’t feel like elaborating, but I wonder if it perhaps had to do with this gap between what old age should or could be and what it actually feels like at times?

Soothing, old people should be, like apples
when one is tired of love

This last line puzzled us. Tired of love? What might that be about?

In the group I visited, many of the group members brought their own experience to the table, and as a Reader Leader I think it’s important to be mindful that group members can have very different reactions to this poem. Some might feel that old age is and should be seen as lovely and filled with ‘stillness and satisfaction of autumn’. Others might feel upset when reading about the ‘yellowing leaves’ and moving towards the end of life – no matter how beautiful it has been and perhaps still is. Finally, I’d be interested in hearing from others whether we can ever really speak about what an age should be?

 

Beautiful Old Age

 

It ought to be lovely to be old

to be full of the peace that comes of experience

and wrinkled ripe fulfilment.

 

The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life

lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies

they would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins

in their old age.

 

Soothing, old people should be, like apples

when one is tired of love.

Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft

stillness and satisfaction of autumn.

 

And a girl should say:

It must be wonderful to live and grow old.

Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! -

 

And a young man should think: By Jove

my father has faced all weathers, but it's been a life!

 

David Herbert Lawrence

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