Saturday, March 29, 2014

`This Is a Time to Begin Your Life'

Youth is pure momentum, mindlessly so. You move forward because that’s what you’ve always done. Think of it as a variation on Newton’s First Law of Motion: Life proceeds until an external force is applied to it. That might be death, injury, illness, a creeping loss of will or something less discernable, a quiet self-sabotage, but no one remains forever immune to inertia. As Bertie Wooster says of an acquaintance: “He's lost his pep. He’s got no dash.” Mercifully, as some of us get winded, tired and sore, we muster the dash to carry on. The mind grows acute even as the body flags. George Herbert phrased it rousingly in “The Flower”: 

“And now in age I bud again,
 After so many deaths I live and write;
 I once more smell the dew and rain,
 And relish versing: O my onely light,
 It cannot be
 That I am he
 On whom thy tempests fell all night.” 

In her 1989 volume, Tributes (“I relate / My debts and give back what I’ve taken, grace”), published when she was sixty-three, Elizabeth Jennings repays a poetic and spiritual debt in “For George Herbert”:  “When I’ve been low I’ve felt your deference / To all that dogs mankind / And all that also gives him happiness. / It is within your words.” In an earlier poem, “Accepted” (Growing Points, 1975), Jennings echoes Herbert’s “now in age I bud again”: 

“You are no longer young,
Nor are you very old.
There are homes where those belong.
You know you do not fit
When you observe the cold
Stares of those who sit 

“In bath-chairs or the park
(A stick, then, at their side)
Or find yourself in the dark
And see the lovers who,
In love and in their stride,
Don't even notice you. 

“This is a time to begin
Your life. It could be new.
The sheer not fitting in
With the old who envy you
And the young who want to win,
Not knowing false from true, 

“Means you have liberty
Denied to their extremes.
At last now you can be
What the old cannot recall
And the young long for in dreams,
Yet still include them all.” 

My new motto: “This is a time to begin / Your life.”

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