I do know that wisdom is not guaranteed. I question the notion that wisdom comes with age. I suspect that it is more the case that the opportunities for folly decrease with age.
I also know that I am going to try my best not to be querulous. Yes, above all, I do not wish to be querulous.
Animal Tranquillity and Decay
The little hedgerow birds,
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression: every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought. -- He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten; one to whom
Long patience hath such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect that the young behold
With envy, what the Old Man hardly feels.
William Wordsworth, Poems (1815).
The poem was first published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, under the title "Old Man Travelling; Animal Tranquillity and Decay, A Sketch." When originally published, the poem closed with these six additional lines:
I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
"Sir! I am going many miles to take
A last leave of my son, a mariner,
Who from a sea-fight has been brought to Falmouth,
And there is dying in an hospital."
William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (1798).
I think that Wordsworth was wise to remove these lines from his final version of the poem. Taking the lines out transforms the poem from an anecdote -- albeit an affecting one -- into a universal meditation on how we make our way through the world.
David Birch (1895-1968), "Morning in June, the Vale of Dedham, Essex"
A parent will sometimes say to a misbehaving child: "Act your age!" The same advice seems apt as we grow old. We ought not to mistake senescence for juvenescence.
Po Chu-i wrote the following poem at the age of 70.
A Dream of Mountaineering
At night, in my dream, I stoutly climbed a mountain,
Going out alone with my staff of holly-wood.
A thousand crags, a hundred hundred valleys --
In my dream-journey none were unexplored
And all the while my feet never grew tired
And my step was as strong as in my young days.
Can it be that when the mind travels backward
The body also returns to its old state?
And can it be, as between body and soul,
That the body may languish, while the soul is still strong?
Soul and body -- both are vanities;
Dreaming and waking -- both alike unreal.
In the day my feet are palsied and tottering;
In the night my steps go striding over the hills.
As day and night are divided in equal parts --
Between the two, I get as much as I lose.
Po Chu-i (translated by Arthur Waley), in Arthur Waley, One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (Constable 1918).
In my country, our candidates for President are sometimes in their sixties or seventies. Don't they have something better to do with themselves at that age? They ought to be attending to their souls, not displaying narcissistic megalomania.
My advice to all such candidates, left, right, or Martian: "Act your age!" Haven't they read Wang Wei? "In the sunset years of my life, all I desire is quietude;/The ten thousand affairs of this world no longer involve my heart." But who am I to judge? The souls of politicians are beyond my ken. I only know that politicians are among the ten thousand affairs of this world that no longer involve my heart.
Malcolm Midwood Milne (1887-1954), "Barrow Hill" (1939)
Po Chu-i's suggestion that aging involves a balance is a good one. No more mountaineering perhaps. But, if we are fortunate, "the soul is still strong." Just as one ought not to be querulous, one ought not to be funereal. After all, the World outside is going to go on being its beautiful and wondrous self, regardless of whether we are young or old.
Grieve must my heart. Age hastens by.
No longing can stay Time's torrent now.
Once would the sun in eastern sky
Pause on the solemn mountain's brow.
Rare flowers he still to bloom may bring,
But day approaches evening;
And ah, how swift their withering!
The birds, that used to sing, sang then
As if in an eternal day;
Ev'n sweeter yet their grace notes, when
Farewell . . . farewell is theirs to say.
Yet, as a thorn its drop of dew
Treasures in shadow, crystal clear,
All that I loved I love anew,
Now parting draweth near.
Walter de la Mare, The Burning-Glass and Other Poems (Faber and Faber 1945).
As de la Mare suggests, we are entitled to some wistfulness. The prospect of loss always involves wistfulness. But, if one lives well -- a big if -- our love of the World will never wane. Mind you, I don't claim to have "lived well." Who could ever say that? Each day is a battle against outer distraction and inner sloth. We need the World to bring us to our senses.
Alex Kirk (1872-1950)
"Cranborne Chase, Dorset, a View towards Horton Tower" (1935)
We ought to keep our wits about us. The culture we live in encourages us to worship the false god of Eternal Youth. Aging provides us with the opportunity to let this false god go. Just as we should let vanity and self-importance go. Easier said than done, of course. A lifetime job.
A bourne awaits us. I'm not suggesting that we rush towards it. Dawdling is perfectly fine. But we should remain mindful of where we are bound.
Things to Come
The shadow of a fat man in the moonlight
Precedes me on the road down which I go;
And should I turn and run, he would pursue me:
This is the man whom I must get to know.
James Reeves, The Questioning Tiger (Heinemann 1964).
Eric Hesketh Hubbard (1892-1957), "The Cuckmere Valley, East Sussex"