Minister’s Message for January 31

An Untitled Poem, by W.B. Yeats.

Why should not old men be mad?

Some have known a likely lad

That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist

Turned to a drunken journalist.

A girl that knew all Dante once

Live to bear children to a dunce,

A Helen of social welfare dream

Climb on a wagonette to scream.

Some think it a matter of course that chance

Should starve good men and bad advance.

That if their neighbors figured plain,

As though upon a lighted screen,

No single story would they find,

Of an unbroken, happy mind,

A finish worthy of the start.

Young men know nothing of this sort.

But observant old men know it well,

And when they know what old books tell,

And that no better can be had

Know why an old man should be mad.

On the surface, the poem is pessimistic, but I find it comforting. Everyone knows disappointment, and we who have lived longer usually know it better. Part of my job is to talk about our lives and the world not as we wish they were, but as they are. It’s a good tool for life to not be surprised by disappointment and failure. It’s also a good tool to know that millions before us have taken ‘arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.’ The pundits remind us that only real failure is not learning from our mistakes. So let’s not mourn that don’t have a ‘finish worthy of [our] start,’ because nobody has that. But we can finish worthy, nonetheless.

3 Responses to “Minister’s Message for January 31

  1. Indeed, disappointment and failure will find you (that’s the nature of existence), but the speaker seems overly bleak (why isn’t our finish worthy of our start?). I prefer Leland’s approach.

  2. I’ve heard it said that “aging is not for the faint of heart,” and I’m getting to the stage of life that I’m starting to believe it. But it begs the question: What is the appropriate stance in the face of decline? The speaker in this poem seems to have given in to despair (which is inevitable if you focus only on loss, i.e., what used to be). Is there an alternative?

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