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Poe once wrote: “Oh! That my young life were a lasting dream! /My spirit not awakening, till the beam/Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.” What do you make of that sentiment, as someone who writes so poignantly of illness?
Oh! that my young life were a lasting dream!
My spirit not awakening, till the beam
Of an Eternity should bring the morrow.
Yes! tho’ that long dream were of hopeless sorrow,
’Twere better than the cold reality
Of waking life, to him whose heart must be,
And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,
A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.
I make of it something different than you make of it, Magister. I make of it the bitter refrain of the middle-aged, in song and in lyric: that the vigour and felicity of youth are not cherished when we’re in the midst of them, and are lamented by us when they’re gone. The wish that the grudging disappointments of middle age, and the aches of senectitude, could be effaced; that we could transition directly from youth to the hereafter, without the gift of youth being tarnished within our very frames.
“Hope I die before I get old”—How old’s the guy who sang that now? 72?
And clicking through to the question details that the shmucks here in Quora Product Design still permit us—Dreams: yes. The imagined, the fleed-to, the dreamed, the recollection with rose-coloured glasses, is always better than what we live in cold reality. In fact—and you and I both know this, mi senex—the youth that was once cold reality was no match for the youth of middle-aged dreams. I didn’t enjoy being young. I didn’t get to have much fun, and I thought my long dream was of hopeless sorrow at the time—because I knew no true sorrow. I didn’t enjoy my vigour, because I knew no decrepitude. I didn’t think things lovely, because I knew no ugliness.
We Greeks, we have a saying for that too. Κάθε πέρσι και καλύτερα. Each “last year” is better than the next.
I recognise the sentiment, mi senex. I recognise that sentiment which colours all of what I do. My last year was better than this too, for having had your voice in it.
(And for having had question details.)
And yet, that’s easy. It’s easy to regret what’s gone; it’s hard to rejoice in what follows. It’s easy to regret vigour; it’s hard to rejoice in wisdom. It’s easy to lament in friends gone; it’s hard to rejoice in friends gained.
It’s easy to have missed your voice. It’s hard to know that mine, too, is a voice that will one day be missed.
Zhou Enlai was old too, in 1972. Alice Goodman, on the other hand, was just 29 when she put these words in his mouth. But she knew what words she did put in his mouth:
I am old and I cannot sleep
forever, like the young, nor hope
that death will be a novelty
but endless wakefulness when I
put down my work and go to bed.
How much of what we did was good?
Everything seems to move beyond
our remedy. Come, heal this wound.
At this hour nothing can be done.
Just before dawn the birds begin,
the warblers who prefer the dark,
the cage-birds answering. To work!
Outside this room the chill of grace
lies heavy on the morning grass.
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