Wednesday, February 10, 2010




A friend sent me the anonymous poem I place here—so that in the reading of it we may together truly see its 83-year-old author. He wrote his poem just before his death in a nursing home. He died alone. Old age inflicts desolation and indignities, which when young and immortal, brave and beautiful, we cannot imagine. So it was with this old man, and yet he bore indignities with dignity, and could have writ these stanzas of the Dylan’s poem.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.[1]

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding light.

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

And you, my father, there on the sad height, 

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

He was strong this old man, and proud and good. But he was angry that his caretakers could not or would not see him. True, his finest days were done too quick, as if by lightening struck; and now, he was needy as a babe. But why would they not see him as he was, still a man of grace and worth however old and close to death?

After the old man died, the cleaning staff found in a drawer his penciled poem. They set it aside awhile as they cleaned away the humble proofs that once he lived, and living, dreamed, and dreaming fell in love with his good wife, raised children, joy and laughter, alas, and pain and grief—for the young man by an unfathomable, most unexpected and amazing curse, grew old; how could this be? Yet worse by far than a man’s own death, is to see the death of the woman he loves. For then finally is a man let be, alone in dread, to face unloved, death desolate, and for this old man—I do wish I knew his name— a solitude his true, well tempered heart did not deserve.

I am certain his nurses meant well. That said, the old man set to rhyme their white, remote efficiency. We all of us fail like this. But I hold most beautiful our power to consecrate, to sanctify and bless. For that which is sacred in itself, an old man, alone, in colloquy with death, we consecrate by truly “seeing” him. Thus the old man’s rage against the dying of the light: that they would not bless him, would not see him; and for want of consecration, I think, he died a lonely man.

As I read his poem, I thought of mine own father’s death, and my wife’s death, and the death of others that I loved, still love, will always love. But this is our primordial, common ground. We must consecrate each the other here: You and me and this old man who live together in a crucible of youth and age, and sacred love, and joy and sorrow, grief and death.

My friend—she is in her eighties—asked that I share his poem with you, and so I will… and so I must. I’ve writ a poem to this good and noble man, to consecrate with thee, hands joined, to consecrate and therefore, to see.


What do you see nurses?

What do you see? 

What are you thinking?

when you're looking at me?

A crabby old man, not very wise,

Uncertain of habit with faraway eyes?

Who dribbles his food

and makes no reply.

When you say in loud voice

'I do wish you'd try!'

Who seems not to notice

the things that you do.

And forever is losing

A sock or shoe?

Who, resisting or not

lets you do as you will,

With bathing and feeding .

The long day to fill?

Is that what you're thinking?

Is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, nurse

you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am

As I sit here so still,

As I do at your bidding,

as I eat at your will.

I'm a small child of Ten

with a father and mother,

Brothers and sisters

who love one another.

A young boy of Sixteen

with wings on his feet.

Dreaming that soon now

a lover he'll meet.

A groom soon at Twenty

my heart gives a leap.

Remembering, the vows

that I promised to keep.

At Twenty-Five, now

I have young of my own.

Who need me to guide

And a secure happy home.

A man of Thirty

My young now grown fast,

Bound to each other

With ties that should last.

At Forty, my young sons

have grown and are gone,

But my woman's beside me

to see I don't mourn.

At Fifty, once more,

babies play 'round my knee

Again, we know children

My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me

my wife is now dead.

I look at the future

shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing

young of their own.

And I think of the years

and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man

and nature is cruel.

Tis jest to make old age

look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles

grace and vigor, depart.

There is now a stone

where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass

a young guy still dwells,

And now and again

my battered heart swells.

I remember the joys

I remember the pain.

And I'm loving and living

life over again.

I think of the years,

all too few gone too fast.

And accept the stark fact

that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people

open and see.

Not a crabby old man

Look closer . . . see ME!!

We Do See Thee!

A Crabby Old Man

He Is Not Thee. Nay!

Proud Seanachi[2]

Rich in Courage, Dignity

We See Thee a Lover

Poet Rhyming True

We see Thee Man, We Do!

Old Winged Soul and New.

We see Thee, Love Thee

Who All His Life

Loved Brothers, Children

His Sacred Wife.

We See Thee

Through our Tears

Tears Due Thee,

Tears Well Shed

Rest Father

Rest Now, Gently Rest

Your Weary Head

In Our Embrace

Your Life’s Struggle

Hard Battle’s Won

For We See Thee,

Joyful Cheer Thee

On and On! Oh Yes!

And Shout to Heaven

Well Done! Well Done!

Again Well Done!

[1] Dylan Thomas. Do not go gently into that good Night.

[2] Gaelic Poet, Story Teller.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting that touching poem. So many Seniors are just forgotten by their family's, and ignored. Every one wants them (us) to volunteer because of our experience, but they don't want to hire us! The Gov. is missing out a vast national resource by not utilizing the Senior population's workforce. Their LOSS! and ours too!