I often look to poetry to facilitate a discussion with myself about something…in this case ageing.

Larkin is often dismissed as a pessimist, as the poet not to read if you are feeling remotely low. But I love his frankness, his realness, his putting-out-there, sometimes uncomfortably for the reader, of truths that define our humanness.

Take ageing.

We see Larkin approach this theme, gently perhaps, in Trees (In Collected Poems, London: Faber, 2003, p.124):

‘The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too.’

There is a nostalgic, even romantic tone to the similarly themed Age (p.60):

‘My age fallen away like white swaddling

Floats in the middle distance, becomes

An inhabited cloud.’

But The Old Fools (p. 131) is different. It exposes the vulnerability of ageing, ‘the whole hideous inverted childhood’. Nothing appears to be gained from the process of ageing, of being old, and Larkin seems angry and resentful:

‘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,

And you keep on pissing yourself, and can’t remember

Who called this morning?’

The anger calms as the poem progresses, as ageing and old age appear to equate with loss, but also the possibility of hope:

‘Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms

Inside your head, and people in them, acting.

People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms

Like a deep loss restored…’

CQ

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