Old age is a shipwreck: these thin days
we wander on a bitter alien shore
where howling wind has bent the twisted trees,
and moss-rimmed rocks rise blurred along the edge
out of a Chinese scroll.


 The waves before us climb with their unending roar,
and we gather up the timbers of the ship
that broke apart;
and build, as once we did as children long ago,
lean-tos for refuge from the wind.


The fog rolls in—makes islands in the mind—
that we visit for a moment and then lose,
then find again and try again to reach
while with the swirling salt sea-spray
incessant wind moves in and carries them away.


 But there are days like this when all is calm and clear:
the sun sweeps through, and we are young again,
laughing in a garden round a keg of beer,
the college towers bathed in golden light
as in a painting by Vermeer—
with the city that he saw across the river,
caught, out of time, and then recalled forever.

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 15 Number 6, on page 32
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