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Ninety years young
Posted by: IanB (
Date: February 04, 2005 07:51AM

In nine days time I shall be celebrating a ninetieth birthday. Not mine, but that of a family matriarch of hardy Scottish ancestry (19th Century immigrants to Australia) and stoic good health, widowed for 13 years, very intelligent, very compos mentis, a tireless letterwriter and networker, lover of words, poetry and books, energetic gardener and cook, mother of 7, generous grandmother, one-eyed supporter of people she considers honourable and deserving, and fierce critic and opponent of those she does not. I'm asked to speak, and to recite a poem or two, at an afternoon gathering of a few score family and friends.

Any suggestions for suitable poems? Any great quips for me to consider plagiarising for my speech?


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: Just Jack (
Date: February 04, 2005 10:28AM


She sounds HOT!
Don't take that the wrong way.
With all of those attributes, she sounds like a gal I would like to meet.
Too many people let the age thing get in the way. They make it seem like a person's AGE is all they are. As you have pointed out, there is so much more going on. I will try to come up with a few poetic suggestions.
Give her my best.


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: (193.114.111.---)
Date: February 04, 2005 11:36AM

You could adapt Lewis Carroll's You are Old Father William. Another possibilty - though it's complex is Empson's To an Old Lady.

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: Linda (
Date: February 04, 2005 12:35PM

Good for her. Tell her how she has a set of nuts rooting for her.

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: February 04, 2005 12:43PM

Is this appropriate - you either love it or you hate it!

GUARANTEE Philip Oakes

You are veined like a leaf.
Babies have tenderised your breasts,
Munching the tissues with their bony gums.
Your fingers are scored
By chopping knives, the oven door,
Hot fat, and rose thorns.
No one would call
You beautiful. Your hair is brindled
By time and weather,
Your skin is foxed
Like a first edition, You show
Distinct signs of wear and tear.
Cats sleep in your lap,
Children come to have their noses blown.
You keep secrets like a strong box.
You are not for special
Occasions, but for everyday. You have
The virtues of denim, wholemeal, and worsted.
You are durable,
You bring words out of storage,
And on your lips they do not sound strange.
Love, duty, service:
Sturdier than slipware, but with the same
Patina, the same hair-line cracks.
In your house, though,
They are for use and not display.
They are not allowed to gather dust,
You are not one
For ornaments. They break easily
Or get in the way.
You prefer shelves, tables,
Lives to be uncluttered. Without distraction
Wood shows its grain, glass its sparkle.
You are happiest
When nothing goes remarked, and celebration
Is the act itself.
You are patient with people,
And implements, you can tie knots,
And start engines. Vegetables grow for you.
I will not praise you, beyond saying
That you are able, amiable, and welcome.
You meet all guarantees. You are as promised.

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: February 04, 2005 12:48PM

Wot's a one-eyed supporter? My education is lacking.

Growing Old - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

The days grow shorter, the nights grow longer;
The headstones thicken along the way;
And life grows sadder, but love grows stronger
For those who walk with us day by day.

The tear comes quicker, the laugh comes slower;
The courage is lesser to do and dare;
And the tide of joy in the heart falls lower,
And seldom covers the reefs of care.

But all true things in the world seem truer,
And the better things of earth seem best,
And friends are dearer, as friends are fewer,
And love is all as our sun dips west.

Then let us clasp hands as we walk together,
And let us speak softly in low, sweet tone,
For no man knows on the morrow whether
We two pass on--or but one alone.


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

-- William Butler Yeats


The Last Leaf - by Oliver Wendell Holmes

I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
And again
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o'er the ground
With his cane.

They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.

But now he walks the streets,
And he looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
"They are gone!"

The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.

My grandmamma has said--
Poor old lady, she is dead
Long ago--
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow;

But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.

I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!

And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.

I especially like the rhythm in the Holmes piece. Like an old person walking with a cane (at least to my ear),

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: lg (
Date: February 04, 2005 02:08PM

Ian, congratulations on your effort. I will enjoy doing research for this topic. I hope that Ilza and Hugh have some good ones for you. I think we have posted some appropriate poems on other threads. Check back here, I should have some poems posted by Sunday evening.

Here's one to get the ball rolling:

The Walk
---Rosemary Shaw

"Your steps are slow", said Youth to Age
As he hurried along the road
"And another thing too, if I were you
I'd get rid of that heavy load".

"The path is narrow, there's little room
And I'm way ahead of you".
"I know" said age, to the chafing youth
"Your load is much lighter, that's true".

You dropped Wisdom, Caution, Knowledge and Pain
By the side of the road as you sped.
But I knew you'd need them further on
So I carry them in your stead".


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: lg (
Date: February 05, 2005 02:36PM

Long Sight In Age
---Philip Larkin

They say eyes clear with age,
As dew clarifies air
To sharpen evenings,
As if time put an edge
Round the last shape of things
To show them there;
The many-levelled trees,
The long soft tides of grass
Wrinkling away the gold
Wind-ridden waves- all these,
They say, come back to focus
As we grow old.


Post Edited (02-05-05 14:51)

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: lg (
Date: February 06, 2005 02:27AM

Grandma, I Remember

All the things you used to do
Cooking dinner on Sunday
Making homemade stew
Sitting for hours
Telling us tales
Of how poor Jonah
Was swallowed by the whale
Working in your garden
Pulling all the weeds
Wiping sweat from your brow
And gently planting seeds
You are a special Grandma
One that we adore
You taught us right from wrong
And so very much more.

Grandma I remember
When you would sing a song
You would encourage
Us all to sing along
And you would sit and rock
And read the Bible
While we would play
I can still see it
As you held it in your hands
Well worn from all your reading
And learning of God's plans
Grandma, I remember
Don't worry about me
You taught us all so well
Years ago upon your knee.

© by Brenda Metz

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: lg (
Date: February 06, 2005 02:46AM

I'd Like To Age Disgracefully
---David Keig

I'd like to age disgracefully
And do all the things i like
Like eating biscuits while in bed
And riding naked on my bike
I think as we grow older
Then some things are left behind
Some with regret i have to say
But i think there's greater peace of mind
There's a returning to the playful
And an opening of eyes
Even if your energies
Are sometimes compromised
So, lets all grow old disgracefully
And let the young ones say
The day that i am older
I want to be that way.


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: lg (
Date: February 06, 2005 02:50AM

Life's Measure
----Alexander Menke

The age of man's life is defined
By the softness and width of his smile,
And the freshness and breadth of his mind.
The essence and good of life's mile
Is the friendship and love that we find,
If we care and accomplish the worthwhile.


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: Veronika (
Date: February 07, 2005 05:59AM

Your post reminded me of this poem by WCW. Maybe not really suitable for a birthday, but it, too, celebrates a remarkable, strong woman.

Give her my best wishes :-)

Kind regards, Veronika

Dedication for a Plot of Ground

This plot of ground
facing the waters of this inlet
is dedicated to the living presence of
Emily Dickinson Wellcome
who was born in England; married;
lost her husband and with
her five year old son
sailed for New York in a two-master;
was driven to the Azores;
ran adrift on Fire Island shoal,
met her second husband
in a Brooklyn boarding house,
went with him to Puerto Rico
bore three more children, lost
her second husband, lived hard
for eight years in St. Thomas,
Puerto Rico, San Domingo, followed
the oldest son to New York,
lost her daughter, lost her "baby,"
seized the two boys of
the oldest son by the second marriage
mothered them -- they being
motherless -- fought for them
against the other grandmother
and the aunts, brought them here
summer after summer, defended
herself here against thieves,
storms, sun, fire,
against flies, against girls
that came smelling about, against
drought, against weeds, storm-tides,
neighbors, weasels that stole her chickens,
against the weakness of her own hands,
against the growing strength of
the boys, against wind, against
the stones, against trespassers,
against rents, against her own mind.

She grubbed this earth with her own hands,
domineered over this grass plot,
blackguarded her oldest son
into buying it, lived here fifteen years,
attained a final loneliness and --

If you can bring nothing to this place
but your carcass, keep out.

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: LRye (
Date: February 07, 2005 01:56PM

Dear Ian---

Check out a poem titled "For Strong Women"
by Marge Piercy in her book, THE MOON IS ALWAYS FEMALE.

It strikes me as perfect for the kind of woman you have described.

If you can't find it, I can try to type it in here
if that's acceptable.

Another poem that might work is titled "Quilt"
by Diane Thiel.

All Best,


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: lg (
Date: February 07, 2005 02:38PM

For Strong Women
--- Marge Piercy ©

A strong woman is a woman who is straining
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tiptoe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing "Boris Godunov."
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn't mind crying, it opens
the ducts of the eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.
A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren't you feminine, why aren't
you soft, why aren't you quiet, why aren't you dead?
A strong woman is a woman determined
to do somehing others are determined
not be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way through a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you're so strong.
A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.
A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
suckling her young. Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.
What comforts her is others loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make
each other. Until we are all strong together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: LRye (
Date: February 07, 2005 03:31PM

Thanks for finding that Les.

As I get older I sure can relate to so much of what Piercy writes.

And no matter how strong any of us are together---
male and female---I think we're all a bit scared
and need each other and the synergy we create---
like here.


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: LRye (
Date: February 07, 2005 04:57PM

Here's quilt by Diane Thiel from her book ECHOLOCATIONS


At night this quiet covers me,
grown ragged on the center seam,
dividing all its history.

I touch the remnants---finely spun,
familiar pieces handed down
from chest to chest for far too long

to still remember what was cut,
that it was once a blouse, a skirt
she wore the night he took her heart.

I touch the fields I thought I knew
and smooth the places healed into
each other, at the ridges sewn

with careful secrets mouthed for all
the years she couldn't tell a soul.


I'd also suggest Galway Kinnel's poem
"When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone"



Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: Pam Adams (
Date: February 07, 2005 10:41PM

And riding naked on my bike

Sounds painful.


Re: Ninety years young
Posted by: IanB (192.168.128.---)
Date: August 24, 2005 11:20AM

Belated thanks to everyone for your thoughtful suggestions, especially to Hugh and Les and LRye for posting so many, and to Marian2 and Veronika for those fine single poems. Wonderful!

In the end, I decided to go for something lighter, focusing not on the lady herself, but on her own constant focus and source of celebration and anxiety, namely, keeping track of the activities of her many descendants. So I recited this one by Judith Viorst:


Sean teaches wind surfing, Dawn is a certified midwife,
Kim has converted from atheism to Ba’hai.
Justin has finally fallen in love with a practically perfect person,
except he’s a guy.

Holly has quit teaching first grade to go into arbitrage.
Keith runs a health club, and Kylie’s a computer whiz.
Robyn, who’s on her second divorce and fourth therapist, says that she’s starting
to learn who she is.

Brandon has dropped out of medical school to write screenplays.
Josh has abjured material things to do good.
Kirsten and Stacey and Maya and Tracey have opted for partnership track
over motherhood.

Andrea’s a professional acupuncturist.
Damien’s making a killing in real estate.
Tara has already given birth to Rebecca and Joseph and Jacob
and plans to have eight.

Kevin has given up socks and acquired a collection of earrings.
Devon has given up sweets and eats nothing impure.
And so – if you want to know how the children are doing – the answer is:
we’re not exactly sure!

[I think the 4th-last line here may be slightly different from the original, but it's how I prefer to recite it.]

The lady is still going strong, incidentally, and wants to hear the poem again.

For Hugh: A one-eyed supporter is someone who's blind to anything unfavourable. For example a football fan who ardently and uncritically supports his or her team. Maybe it's just Aussie slang, though I thought it was from England.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/24/2005 11:47AM by IanB.

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