Treasure Island

Matthew Arnold

(1822-1888 / Middlesex / England)

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Growing Old


What is it to grow old?
Is it to lose the glory of the form,
The lustre of the eye?
Is it for beauty to forego her wreath?
Yes, but not for this alone.

Is it to feel our strength -
Not our bloom only, but our strength -decay?
Is it to feel each limb
Grow stiffer, every function less exact,
Each nerve more weakly strung?

Yes, this, and more! but not,
Ah, 'tis not what in youth we dreamed 'twould be!
'Tis not to have our life
Mellowed and softened as with sunset-glow,
A golden day's decline!

'Tis not to see the world
As from a height, with rapt prophetic eyes,
And heart profoundly stirred;
And weep, and feel the fulness of the past,
The years that are no more!

It is to spend long days
And not once feel that we were ever young.
It is to add, immured
In the hot prison of the present, month
To month with weary pain.

It is to suffer this,
And feel but half, and feebly, what we feel:
Deep in our hidden heart
Festers the dull remembrance of a change,
But no emotion -none.

It is -last stage of all -
When we are frozen up within, and quite
The phantom of ourselves,
To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost
Which blamed the living man.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Amy Leigh (9/14/2014 1:41:00 AM)

    *face Palm* for a poetry forum, these comments are pretty ridiculous. First of all, Matthew arnold was one of the most well known and respected artists from the 1800's. So for those giving Matthew criticism and advice for his next poems..... Well, that's of no use since he's dead for over 100 years.

    Secondly, Mr Arnold was very concerned about the cultural and social aspect of the day. As such, he began writing poems with cultural messages. This was called sage writing. Wikipedia states, Matthew Arnold has been characterised as a sage writer, a type of writer who chastises and instructs the reader on contemporary social issues.

    That being said, this poem DOES accurately portray the mindset of many elderly people who have been essentially forgotten. Notice he doesn't mention family, etc until the very end.... the voice of the poem is implying that in old age, the worst thing want growing old and losing beauty and strength, but being alone, a burden, uncared for, forgotten, etc. Until your time comes, then bam.... there's all those pdople around you again.... finally there but when it's too late.

    Think of many elderly people who are thrown in 3rd rate nursing homes with no visitors and without a single show of love. Don't you think most of them would echo these thoughts in th poem? Arnold's point wasn't pity for himself but a social commentary on his culture at the time. He was giving a voice to those who didn't have one.

    To be frank, even if that hasn't been his intention, the poem was written so well & so disturbingly unforgettable that it is a piece of art even as the standpoint of one person. For each life and death is different.

    Though many of his poems did have a distinctly melancholic feel and serious tones, it was in direct contrast to the quiet who was lively, mischievous fun and very content. The type of poetry he produced was very popular in the Victorian era. Perhaps because he was so lighthearted and gay, he might have used his writings to discuss the problems in society which bothered him...because despite his carefree attitude, he was a man of convictions.

    He is one of my favorites poets of the Victorian era because he had a way of writing things that left you slightly unsettled, a bit haunted, and therefore unforgettable. But at the same time, very beautiful!

    Perhaps his most famous poem ever is one you'll recognize. Reading it, perhaps you will see him in a different light and appreciate the beauty of his carefully chosen words.

    It starts like this...

    Come to me in my dreams, and then
    By day I shall be well again!
    For so the night will more than pay
    The hopeless longing of the day.

    Never posted on here before and don't plan to again, but I just couldn't let this one slide. :)

    Cheers! xx

    PS... sorry for all the typos- it's very late and I'm on my mobile, so a bit difficult to type. (Report) Reply

  • Thomas Vaughan Jones (3/3/2014 1:13:00 PM)

    He wasn't that old.66 years is a mere whisper in time and space. But it's what he did in those 66 years that brought him to such a morbid outlook. Listen up. Live your life to the full now, while you can. Then, when you touch 80, you can sit on a park bench and watch the girls go by. They will smile knowingly at you, and you can grin contentedly right back. Then back to the grand kids to tell tall tales, and read them poetry. Case sorted! !
    I'm off to write a poem now on Growing Old. (Report) Reply

  • Martin Zehr (3/3/2014 12:13:00 PM)

    Lest we look away I dare to say, Tis life grows shorter every day. I walk obscured and am not heard, By others moving with the herd. For the stories of my life I dare to share, And told by others they do not care. Is my journey that's for sure, Is death the only thing will cure. I gaze upon the dramas of youth, while feeling Ow! I've lost a tooth. And just beyond there lies a road descend, How do you feel about the end? No glory of an athlete young, the song is there no longer sung. (Report) Reply

  • Vizard Dhawan (3/3/2014 11:47:00 AM)

    You can still
    be a fighter right up to the end. There
    are ways of distracting the mind to
    make any physical pain tolerable. (Report) Reply

  • Terence George Craddock (3/3/2013 6:59:00 PM)

    'Growing Old' by Matthew Arnold is a poem which seems to reek, of self pity and regret, that youth is past. Arnold offers no redeeming benefit in growing old, and in experience and maturity, I see many benefits. The age of rash acts and taking easy offense, is perhaps a fault in some young people. Experience teaches many other ways to look at life. It is better to give than receive, it is better to forgive than row bitter and resentful, which seems to be a condition Matthew Arnold suffers from.
    I reject the concept that growing old is to lose the glory of the form, because in some old people I see radiant kindness and happiness, in accepting their life, the blessings of a home to live in; food on the table, family to cherish and friends to trust in. This is the inner beauty of a good heart full of love for others. Perhaps life is what we make it? There is great beauty in old eyes, full of a love for life and sparkling with a life philosophy, which blesses other people.
    Certainly I accept that good health is better than the greed of riches not shared. When it comes to old age I adore the lines by Dylan Thomas, written in love and appreciation of his father. I love the meaning in Dylan's poem, 'Do not go gentle into that good night', where he encourages his dying father to Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan's message and meaning is to fight, to the last breath against death, to fight for life.
    Matthew by contrast, focuses totally on all negative aspects of old age, without any balance of redeeming features such as maturity, wisdom, a measure of free time, appreciation of good deeds done. Strength can be recovered after illness and injury; exercise, a good attitude and a resolute will, can help restore and revitalize weakened limbs. A good diet and a walk in sunlight in summer, even a cold day in winter, each has separate small delights. Some of us even enjoy rain and storms.
    Each day we achieve work done well and bestow good will and a smile upon a stranger, is reason to be happy, and seeing children doing well, marrying well; having children is to know a heart profoundly stirred. I do not suffer from the melancholy of having to spend long days/ And not once feel that we were ever young. I still feel like a cheeky child, each day ready to delight in events experiences, which shall come my way. I am still an eternal child, wearing a disguise of age and smiling at good fortune, making the most of misfortune, and learning from it all; grateful for wisdom that comes with age.
    I still delight in emotion, feel happier in my philosophy of life than when younger, more uncertain. I am thankful that I believe in God and an inherent good in all, who reject unhappiness; bitterness, sorrow, determined to benefit from experience in years. I do not know why so often atheists seem angry, bitter, enraged in old age.
    There is a grey power wisdom, which helps encourages, guides and blesses the efforts of the young. I do not know why some have to constantly insult and put the efforts of the young especially down; when they should nurture with the wisdom of the years.
    Life is a journey, old age is still a time of learning, by reflecting on life experiences, and bestowing wisdom knowledge and aid; to all we meet in life whenever possible. I find Matthew Arnold's deliberate relentless attack upon age, devoid of any redeeming features to be a lie, I neither live nor share in. I find time to delight in an appreciation of family friends, who we love, to be a glorious benefit illuminating the sunset of life. (Report) Reply

  • Alvin Wien (3/3/2010 7:43:00 PM)

    I accept your view on our feeble form but reject your idea. Being old has black and white like any other stage. To me, when my body becomes weak and more care is needed, that will be the day when I can look under my skull and see the both the glorious and disappointed past in my life. That will be the day when I can say good bye to the world. (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (3/3/2010 2:07:00 PM)

    Some comments posted here are little more than trite and commonplace remarks from those who should know better. Grow up and take it like a man, Matthew my compadre! Stiff upper lip, you know! You ain't nothing but a loser! Do not assume that you speak for both you and me, professor! Pray for salvation, you old sod! And so on and on! These remarks directed at the ghost of the Arnold who wrote in another poem an elegy to the memory of a blind old poet named Homer who has been credited with composing both the Iliad and the Odyssey! Of course, nothing certain has been unearthed about Homer, except by scholars like Arnold and his ancient colleagues in 6th century BC Athens! (Report) Reply

  • Gone Away (3/3/2010 7:35:00 AM)

    The experience of growing old will be as individual as people's lives are. (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (3/3/2010 7:19:00 AM)

    It all depends. I am 66 and have never felt mentally sharper in all my life. True the physical side decays, but the increase in 'wisdom' fed by long experience more than compensates. I have much less fear now, and view the future stoically. I am that I am whatever my age is. Arnold is making the mistake of assuming that everyone feels as he does. A poet should be careful and be able to differentiate between writing for himself and for the general. (Report) Reply

  • Indira Renganathan (3/3/2010 1:18:00 AM)

    Dear poet, don't you think by old age you should have mellowed much enough to face bravely death and get ready for your next birth by means of prayers and prayers alone....old age also means maturity (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (3/3/2010 12:57:00 AM)

    Growing old leads to loss of body shape, lustre of eye, beauty and losing strength! Not only that but also it is losing youthful dreaming nature, prophetic look from high level, having pain always, no emotion and living as a ghost till the end! These are the things that comes to the mind of Matthew Arnold and with that it ends! He has not touched upon maturity, wisdom, spiritual brightness and so on! It is just a mechanical composition of poem based on available facts ready in hand! (Report) Reply

  • Himaya Marinas (3/3/2009 7:58:00 PM)

    Growing old is a natural process.Most of us were afraid of.The life we spent during our youthful days will still remind in our hearts eventhough were too old to remimber.So love yourself, enjoyed your life to the fullest. (Report) Reply

  • Edith Oram (3/3/2008 4:23:00 PM)

    This is a loser's view of growing old and very depressing. It dwells only on negative physical aspects and gives no positive balance as in becoming wiser through experience, knowing what is worth expending your energy on and having the time to do and delve into the myriad things you wanted to do but never had the time because you were doing other things like working and bringing up a family. You can still be a fighter right up to the end. There are ways of distracting the mind to make any physical pain tolerable. When you give in you may as well give up. this is not the way I intend to grow old. At 63 I regard myself as a mature youngster. (Report) Reply

Read all 15 comments »

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