Beautiful Old Age

It ought to be lovely to be old
to be full of the peace that comes of experience
and wrinkled ripe fulfilment.

The wrinkled smile of completeness that follows a life
lived undaunted and unsoured with accepted lies
they would ripen like apples, and be scented like pippins
in their old age.

Soothing, old people should be, like apples
when one is tired of love.
Fragrant like yellowing leaves, and dim with the soft
stillness and satisfaction of autumn.

And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! -

And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it's been a life!

by David Herbert Lawrence

Comments (4)

A continuation of the apologia for his philandering that the poet admits to in the previous sonnet. It also takes up, though perhaps in a less passionate manner, the idolatry theme of sonnet 105. The poet confesses to his swervings from the path of true love, but asserts that he returns refreshed and with a renewed sense of the divinity and wonder of his former love for the youth. Nothing has changed, if anything his love has increased, and he hopes and trusts that he will be welcomed by the beloved, just as he hopes ultimately for Christian redemption and a return to Abraham's bosom.
Commentators have understandably seen in this sonnet and the following one ambiguous references to Shakespeare's career as actor and playwright. The references seem to be rueful and resigned, indicating that he might have wished for better birth and fortune. But it must be admitted that the brief comments that he here makes and in the next one on 'public means that public manners breeds etc.' do not amount to much, and it would be difficult to build a biography on them.
Attitudes to players in the 16th and early 17th centuries were ambiguous. The stage was frequented by many of the wealthy and powerful, and much admired in legal circles, but there was a strong tradition that it fostered and encouraged immorality. The theatres were situated on the South Bank, outside the jurisdiction of the London authorities, in an area renowned for its taverns and brothels. Nevertheless a theatrical career could bring respectability in the end, as Shakespeare's own record testifies, and that of others such as Heminge, Condell, Burbage, Chapman and Jonson. In the end the growth of Puritanism killed off the theatre in England, but not before Shakespeare's death. Puritanism was strong even in Elizabethan times, but not strong enough to overturn the favours bestowed on theatrical companies by Elizabeth and her court. The same could be said of James's time. Nevertheless some of the hostility had an effect, and it is possible that the 'brand' mentioned in the next sonnet was the stigma of belonging to the theatre with all the supposedly dissolute practices and morals that such membership implied. shakespeares-sonnets.com/
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