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Matthew Arnold (1822–88). The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840–1867. 1909.

New Poems, 1867

Growing Old

[First published 1867.]

WHAT is it to grow old?

Is it to lose the glory of the form,

The lustre of the eye?

Is it for beauty to forgo her wreath?

Yes, but not this alone.

Is it to feel our strength—

Not our bloom only, but our strength—decay?

Is it to feel each limb

Grow stiffer, every function less exact,

Each nerve more weakly strung?

Yes, this, and more! but not,

Ah, ’tis not what in youth we dream’d ’twould be!

’Tis not to have our life

Mellow’d and soften’d as with sunset glow,

A golden day’s decline!

’Tis not to see the world

As from a height, with rapt prophetic eyes,

And heart profoundly stirr’d;

And weep, and feel the fullness of the past,

The years that are no more!

It is to spend long days

And not once feel that we were ever young.

It is to add, immured

In the hot prison of the present, month

To month with weary pain.

It is to suffer this,

And feel but half, and feebly, what we feel.

Deep in our hidden heart

Festers the dull remembrance of a change,

But no emotion—none.

It is—last stage of all—

When we are frozen up within, and quite

The phantom of ourselves,

To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost

Which blamed the living man.