Beautiful Old Age by D.H. Lawrence is a five stanza, free verse poem with no set rhyme scheme or line pattern. Lawrence has taken advantage of line breaks to move the speaker quickly through this poem and interspersed short and long lines to allow the eye to move from line to line faster.
Lawrence begins the piece by saying that old age “ought to be lovely.” It should be a time in which peace comes from all the experiences one has had, and one feels nothing by fulfillment. He continues on to describe how “old people” should be fragrant like apples and be allowed to pass on like the coming of autumn, calmly and with quiet satisfaction.
He finished the poem by speaking on what a young girl should feel about her aging mother and a young boy about his aging father. They should see their parents as figures of strength and wisdom with fully successful lives.
Analysis of 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.
Lawrence begins Beautiful Old Age with speculation, that it must be a lovely thing to “be old.” His speaker lacks authority on this subject as he is not yet reached his later years, but is imagining what the future “ought” to hold.
He believes that once he has aged enough, he will feel the peace “that comes” with “experience.” One, Lawrence’s speaker thinks, must be able to look back on all that they have done and feel peaceful seeing the hard times and the good. He compares this feeling to that of a “wrinkled ripe” fruit of fulfillment that has aged to perfection, and just a little beyond. The bulk of one’s life may be behind them, but that does not have to be a bad thing.
Lawrence is also comparing the physical wrinkles on the face of an older person to those that develop as a piece of fruit ages.
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.
In the second stanza Lawrence speaks further on this “wrinkled” happiness that his speaker believes in. The speaker describes how a “smile of completeness” will follow a life that has been lived “undaunted, or undiscouraged by difficulty.
The life that Lawrence is describing has been lived to the fullest, this person has not given up when faced with hardships, or “soured” when faced with the common lies of life that others have “accepted.” This person has seen the world as it is and faced it. They can now look back upon their existence and smile contentedly.
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.
The speaker continues on with the apple metaphor describing what he thinks that “old people” should be like. Those that fit all of the speaker’s previous criteria should be
Soothing… like apples
when one is tired of love.
The “old people” should be like a balm to the younger. When one’s heart or spirit is broken and tired, they should be as apples are, a simple pleasure to take away the pain of recent injury.
They should also be good smelling, like “yellowing leaves” as well as “dim[ming]” or softening, with autumn. The speaker seems to considered autumn to be a month of calm softness, and as it begins gently, so too should come death to the elderly.
And a girl should say:
It must be wonderful to live and grow old.
Look at my mother, how rich and still she is! –
The next two stanzas are different that those that proceeded them. This fourth stanza describes, from the speaker’s perspective, what a young girl should feel about her aging mother. She should look upon her visage and feel how “wonderful” it must have been to have lived and now “grow old.”
The girl must look at her mother and wonder at how “rich” in memories and experiences, and how “still” she is, or calm, like the coming of autumn.
And a young man should think: By Jove
my father has faced all weathers, but it’s been a life!
The final stanza of Beautiful Old Age concerns what a young boy should feel and think when gazing at his father.
The boy, amazed at the life his father has led should be astounded by the difficulties that he has faced and “weathered” and see all these troubles as aspects of a life very well lived.
This very idealized version of aging, that only becomes more glorified as the poem goes on, has been written with a very important premise. That old age “should” be this way, it “ought” to be filled with peace and success. The reader can infer for themselves whether they believe that Lawrence saw old age this way, or if he was creating a world in which life was seen to progress upwards, instead of down.
About D.H. Lawrence
David Herbert Lawrence, more commonly known as D.H. Lawrence, was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England in September of 1885. Lawrence, inspired by his mother, had no desire to remain in the working-class life into which was born, but it would have a lasting impact on his writing.
The next few years of Lawrence’s life were filled with struggle and discovery. In 1906 his older brother, William, died and Lawrence was struck with pneumonia. When he was recovered he began student teaching and began to write poetry and the first draft of the novel, The White Peacock.
The White Peacock was published in 1911, and his second novel, The Trespasser, was published a year later. Lawrence’s life would change when in the summer of 1912 he fell in love with Frida von Richthofen, the wife of one of his old professors. The two left their lives behind and traveled around Europe. His third novel, Sons and Lovers, was published in 1913 and is considered Lawrence’s masterpiece.
The couple got married in 1914 and Lawrence left England to live in Cornwall, where he was then banished from, for being too controversial. The next years of Lawrence’s life were spent traveling to America, Australia, and Mexico. It was in 1927, having contracted tuberculosis that Lawrence finished Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the work for which he is best known.
He died in France in 1930, at the age of 44. He is now considered to be one of the greatest modernist English-language writers.