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(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


Read poems about / on: strength, sunset, change, beauty, world, pain, alone, heart, lost, dream

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Comments about this poem (From the Hymn of Empedocles by Matthew Arnold )

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  • Malcolm Wakeman (3/9/2014 4:49:00 AM)

    Not recommend if you have had a bad day - could push you over the edge!

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Gone Away (3/3/2010 7:35:00 AM)

    The experience of growing old will be as individual as people's lives are.

  • 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.

  • 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

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