Ceremony of Losses

After a life of loving the old, by natural law, I turned old myself. Donald Hall

It was the middle of March, earlier this year, and I was sitting at my desk looking out at the sea. The yacht harbor, beautiful sailing ships, cargo and cruise liners passing by. I was not getting any younger, reasonably fit with most of my marbles still in working order.

No so, claimed eighty-five year old Donald Hall, former US Poet Laureate, who reported the view from his window in the middle of a New England winter. (New Yorker, 1/23/12)

Today it is January, midmonth, mid-day, and mid-New Hampshire. I sit in my blue armchair looking out the window.

Hall watches the snow falling, the visitors to his birdfeeder, the barn, no longer a place to work but one to look at. He laments all that he has lost in his antiquity. The poetic metaphors no longer come to him with ease. The young won’t let him forget how old he is. Neither will their condescending treatment.

“…old age is a ceremony of losses, which is on the whole preferable to dying at forty-seven or fifty-two. When I lament and darken over my diminishments, I accomplish nothing. It’s better to set at the window all day, pleased to watch birds, barns and flowers. It is a pleasure to write about what I do.”

Sometime in 2000 he started working on his poem, Affirmation, says he revised it 35 times, fewer than normal. He submitted it to the New Yorker and it was published immediately, unlike most of his submissions.


To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.


Stefanie said...

That was both beautiful and depressing.

Richard Katzev said...

I thought so too, especially as Donald Hall's age is getting closer and closer to me each day.

Linda said...

So very beautiful. So beautifully cruel. I appreciate the beauty of the poem and acknowledge its truth, but I recoil from the poet's call to "Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge and affirm that it is fitting and delicious to lose everything."

Thomas' "Rage, rage at the dying of the light" gives me some hope, illusory though it may be.

Wonderful post, Richard, which coincides perfectly with my mood on this gray Saturday morning.

cath said...

Since 2010 I've made it a habit to read something by Donald Hall every year. He is one of the poets whose company I value in the process of getting older. This also means I have the pleasure of selecting a new addition to my collection of his work every year,my Hall collection goes from poetry to essays to children's books now. As in his poetry his ancestral home and view from the window plays a big part and as I read Seasons at Eagle Pond I feel familiar with this view although I regret not having found the interview with that title. 'Affirmation' is so true and beautiful that it hurts.

Richard Katzev said...
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