Mind you, I don't claim to be of a calm, disinterested, and equable temperament: I am often moved to sorrow or dismay or anger at the latest display of humanity's diabolical capabilities and inanity. Our perverse inventiveness is, alas, endless. But the existence of those diabolical capabilities and of that inanity no longer comes as a surprise. Thus it is, thus it was, and thus it always will be.
There's no great mystery here, is there? One is best advised to attend to one's own soul. A place to start:
. . . we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
Philip Larkin, "The Mower," Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1988).
Harold Hussey, "Dove House, Hurley" (1940)
From My Window
An old man leaning on a gate
Over a London mews -- to contemplate --
Is it the sky above -- the stones below?
Is it remembrance of the years gone by,
Or thinking forward to futurity
That holds him so?
Day after day he stands,
Quietly folded are the quiet hands,
Rarely he speaks.
Hath he so near the hour when Time shall end,
So much to spend?
What is it he seeks?
Whate'er he be,
He is become to me
A form of rest.
I think his heart is tranquil, from it springs
A dreamy watchfulness of tranquil things,
And not unblest.
Mary Coleridge, The Collected Poems of Mary Coleridge (edited by Theresa Whistler) (Rupert Hart-Davis 1954).
Harold Hussey, "Tithe Barn near Hurley" (1940)
The following passage is apt, I think.
"One of the advantages of old age is liberty. Pisistratus asked Solon, who opposed him, on what he grounded his liberty? Upon my old-age, he replied, which has no longer any thing to fear.
The latter season sets us free from the tyranny of opinion. When we are young, we think only of living in the conceit of others. We must establish our reputations, and give ourselves an honorable place in the imagination of others; and we must even be happy in their idea. Such happiness is not real; -- it is not ourselves we consult, but others.
In a later period, we return to ourselves, and this return has its sweets. We begin to consult and to confide in ourselves. We escape from fortune and from illusion. Men have lost their prerogative of deceiving us. We have learnt to know them, and to know ourselves; to profit from our own faults, which instruct us as much as those of others. We begin to see our error, in having set so high a value upon men."
Marchioness de Lambert (Anne-Therese de Marguenat de Courcelles), Essays on Friendship and Old-Age (translated by Eliza Ball Hayley) (1780), pages 128-130. I owe my awareness of this passage to Giacomo Leopardi, who quotes from it in Zibaldone (page 633; February 9, 1821).
Harold Hussey, "The Post Office, Hurley" (1940)
But I wouldn't wish to suggest that this growing old business is always a bed of roses. A poem by Norman MacCaig provides a fitting counterpoint and caution.
In an Edinburgh Pub
An old fellow, hunched over a half pint
I hope he's remembering.
I hope he's not thinking.
Which comes first?
Memory, as always,
Lazarus of the past --
who comes sad or joyful,
but always carrying with him
a whiff of grave clothes.
Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).
Harold Hussey, "The Thames near Hurley" (1940)