Old Age by Edmund Waller

image by Linda Richardson

image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December the 9th of December in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Old Age by the Seventeenth Century poet Edmund Waller. This gentle meditation on old age, on the light that shines ‘through chinks that time hath made’, may be one source for Leonard Cohen’s famous lines about ‘how the light gets in’. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, was created by Linda Richardson.

Linda Writes:

Some years ago my husband began collecting World War Two letters from soldiers who were writing home. I did a photo transfer of one of these letters onto a canvas board and it has been in my studio for several years waiting for the moment when I would find a purpose for it.

With this as the ground, I painted the board and rubbed it down many times giving the effect of layers and layers, much like paint work in an old house. The top half of the painting is pink and infantile, the bottom half is black. The halves are separated and distanced by a rich gold band that connects the two but the image only works because light is there with the dark. The painting is uncluttered as that of a life paired down and the words are barely visible beneath the layers of paint, hinting at life nearly snuffed out, of a past and a memory fading away. The gold line foams and swells into the upper and lower halves of the painting suggesting the boundless nature of our inner spirit or the Divine Life that resides within us all. How much is visible of the gold within, is up to us and the grace of God. ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ (Isaiah 9:2)

 

You can find you can find the words, and a short reflective essay on this poem in Waiting on the Word, which is now also available on Kindle

Old Age

THE seas are quiet when the winds give o’er;

So calm are we when passions are no more.

For then we know how vain it was to boast

Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.

Clouds of affection from our younger eyes

Conceal that emptiness which age descries.

 

The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,

Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made:

Stronger by weakness, wiser men become

As they draw near to their eternal home.

Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view

That stand upon the threshold of the new.

8 Comments

Filed under imagination

8 responses to “Old Age by Edmund Waller

  1. pokeyone

    Thanks for this gem, Malcolm. Cohen’s lines are among my favorite prayers. I recognized the image at once when I read it here, but prefer to I’m agine that Spencer and Cohen came to it themselves. Ilia Delio’s beautiful conference this weekend deepened my awareness of Christ as the Light of the World. I greatly appreciate your work and Linda’s that so richly reflect that reality.

  2. poebiz

    This is part of a slightly longer poem  OF THE LAST VERSES IN THE BOOK

    When we for age could neither read nor write, The subject made us able to indite. The soul, with nobler resolutions deckt, The body stooping, does herself erect: No mortal parts are requisite to raise Her, that unbodied can her Maker praise.

    The seas are quiet, when the winds give o’er, So calm are we, when passions are no more: For then we know how vain it was to boast Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost. Clouds of affection from our younger eyes Conceal that emptiness, which age descries.

    The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d, Lets in new light through chinks that time has made; Stronger by weakness, wiser men become As they draw near to their eternal home: Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view, That stand upon the threshold of the new.

    Poe

    • Bethan

      A beautiful reflection today; there is a’standing on the cusp’ quality to the experience of old age; this is created by the use of several antithetical descriptions within the poem; the calm of a still sea-scape allows an enhanced vista, while the romp and stomp of youth, though full of excitement actually shield youth from the wisdom and insights which are the gifts and graces of old age. The word,’clouds’ unite the calm image of the sea with the frenzy of youth: Youth is blind, while the eyes of the sou, in old age perceive/descries/
      The startling, dramatic metaphor of the ‘dark cottage’ is superb.cf Paul’s ‘tent, the body in which we live’. Again we find that the negatives implici tin the description of the house , contain promise of a newer habitat, a richer nourishment.The juxta-positioning of ideas are increased here;
      The poem and the art work draw us in to a place and time for relction.

    • pokeyone

      Thank you for sharing this.

    • malcolmguite

      Yes indeed it is. I write about that in more detail about n my book. But this section became famous in its own right as a separate poem when it was printed on its own in The Oxford Book of English verse. Thanks for posting all the missing parts!

  3. David C Brown

    “Ardently desiring to have put in our house which is from heaven …” , 2 Corinthians 5: 2, comes to mind. Thanks for a reminder of that new home!

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