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