I invited the poets here to write, in any way they chose, about ageing. Our society, I believe, is turning gradually away from its obsession with “yoof” and “slebs”. We are beginning to realise that we face, at the very least, an uncertain future, one in which wisdom and experience – and respect – will need to be accorded a more important role. A good place to start is to read and listen to some of our most distinguished poets and, through them, to assert the importance of poetry in our culture. As poet laureate, it is a privilege to say to these poets, on behalf of their readers and the poets who follow on from them, a loud thank you.
By Ruth Fainlight
Listen to Ruth Fainlight reading “Ageing”
Since early middle-age
(say around forty)
I've been writing about ageing,
poems in many registers:
fearful, enraged or accepting
as I moved through the decades.
Now that I'm really old
there seems little left to say.
Pointless to bewail
the decline, bodily and mental;
not to me only but everyone,
and ridiculous to celebrate
the wisdom supposedly gained
simply by staying alive.
– Nevertheless, to have faith
that you'll be adored as an ancient
might make it all worthwhile.
Ageing means smiling at babies
in their pushchairs and strollers
(wondering if I look as crazy
as Virginia or Algernon –
though I don't plan to bite!)
Realising I'm smiling at strangers.
It means no more roller-skating.
That used to be my favourite
sport, after school, every day:
to strap on my skates,
spin one full circle in place,
then swoop down the hill and away.
When I saw that young girl on her blades,
wind in her hair, sun on her face,
like a magazine illustration
from childhood days, racing
her boyfriend along the pavement:
– then I understood ageing.