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On Growing Old

John Masefield, 1878–1967
  • John Masefield, 1878–1967
  • Be with me, Beauty, for the fire is dying; 
  • My dog and I are old, too old for roving. 
  • Man, whose young passion sets the spindrift flying, 
  • Is soon too lame to march, too cold for loving. 
  • I take the book and gather to the fire, 
  • Turning old yellow leaves; minute by minute 
  • The clock ticks to my heart. A withered wire, 
  • Moves a thin ghost of music in the spinet. 
  • I cannot sail your seas, I cannot wander 
  • Your cornland, nor your hill-land, nor your valleys 
  • Ever again, nor share the battle yonder 
  • Where the young knight the broken squadron rallies. 
  • Only stay quiet while my mind remembers 
  • The beauty of fire from the beauty of embers. 
  • Beauty, have pity! for the strong have power, 
  • The rich their wealth, the beautiful their grace, 
  • Summer of man its sunlight and its flower. 
  • Spring-time of man, all April in a face. 
  • Only, as in the jostling in the Strand, 
  • Where the mob thrusts, or loiters, or is loud, 
  • The beggar with the saucer in his hand 
  • Asks only a penny from the passing crowd, 
  • So, from this glittering world with all its fashion, 
  • Its fire, and play of men, its stir, its march, 
  • Let me have wisdom, Beauty, wisdom and passion, 
  • Bread to the soul, rain when the summers parch. 
  • Give me but these, and though the darkness close 
  • Even the night will blossom as the rose.
F. Scott Fitzgerald reading the first stanza of "On Growing Old"

British poet John Edward Masefield was born in 1878 and at the age of 13, because of his ambition to become a merchant seaman, entered the training ship Conway. After two and a half years on the school ship he was apprenticed aboard a sailing ship that was bound for Chile. In 1895, he deserted his ship in New York City and worked there in a carpet factory and as an assistant barkeeper and dishwasher in a New York City saloon. When Masefield returned to London a few years later he became a full-time writer.

His first volume of poems, Salt-Water Ballads, established his reputation as an exceptional poet. In 1903 he married Constance de la Cherois-Crommelin and they had two children. During World War I, Masefield served in the Red Cross in France and on a hospital ship at Gallipoli. In 1930, he was appointed British Poet Laureate, a position that he maintained until his death in 1967. Except for Tennyson, he was the longest-serving Poet Laureate in British history. To hear the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald reading the first stanza of this poem, go to www.brainpickings.org/2013/09/24/f-scott-fitzgerald-reads-john.

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