Weathering: Poet Fleur Adcock’s Sublime Eulogy for Growing Older
An ode to the art of growing indifferent to mirrors and to what your soul may wear over its complexion.
By Maria Popova
“Age cannot manage to empty either sensual pleasure of its attractiveness or the whole world of its charm,” André Gide wrote in 1917 as he approached his 49th birthday. “For old people,” 63-year-old Ursula K. Le Guin lamented three generations later in her beautiful reflection on aging and what beauty really means, “beauty doesn’t come free with the hormones, the way it does for the young… It has to do with who the person is.” And yet to cherish the beauty of that who-ness amid a culture as preoccupied with appearances as ours, and to carve from it a lens on the abiding attractiveness of the world, is a supreme act of courage — one which the great New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock (b. February 10, 1934) captures with uncommon poignancy and elegance of spirit in her poem “Weathering,” found in her collection Poems 1960–2000 (public library) and read here by Adcock in a recording from a 2007 film by artist and editor Pamela Robertson-Pearce.
Literally thin-skinned, I suppose, my face
catches the wind off the snow-line and flushes
with a flush that will never wholly settle. Well:
that was a metropolitan vanity,
wanting to look young for ever, to pass.
I was never a pre-Raphaelite beauty
nor anything but pretty enough to satisfy
men who need to be seen with passable women.
But now that I am in love with a place
which doesn’t care how I look, or if I’m happy,
happy is how I look, and that’s all.
My hair will grow grey in any case,
my nails chip and flake, my waist thicken,
and the years work all their usual changes.
If my face is to be weather-beaten as well
that’s little enough lost, a fair bargain
for a year among the lakes and fells, when simply
to look out of my window at the high pass
makes me indifferent to mirrors and to what
my soul may wear over its new complexion.
Complement with poet Donald Hall on our cultural attitude toward the elderly and Grace Paley on the art of growing older, one of the warmest and wisest things ever written.
Published February 17, 2016