This week’s poem post is actually about two poems, written 70 years apart, by two different men and both about getting older.
In 1927, A.A. Milne published “Now We Are Six,” a collection of 35 poems for children, some about his most famous creation, Winnie-the-Pooh. Many feature Milne’s son, Christopher Robin and all the wondrous discoveries and flights of fancy that occupy the minds of young, active boys.
It’s delightful from beginning to end and, though some of them are veddy, veddy British and don’t translate well to modern day American children (ask my kids, I read these to them years ago and the response to some of them was crickets) they are fun and funny. Ernest H. Shepard’s illustrations (though the book calls them “decorations”) add to the charm. The book ends with, fittingly, a poem titled “The End,” printed below.
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two
I was nearly new.
When I was Three,
I was hardly Me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.
Ahh, to be six and know so much and not ever need to grow up…
In 1999, poet and writer Christopher Matthew, who I’d never heard of, published a book of poetry inspired by the Milne book titled, “Now We Are Sixty.” It’s an equally delightful collection of poems about getting older and all the not-so-wondrous things that occupy the mind of someone whose faculties, once taken for granted, are starting to desert him.
Matthew uses the meter and rhyme scheme of each of Milne’s poems—and others from different Milne collections—to talk about insomnia, losing things, what it’s like to be called “old” and how times have changed. The decorations by David Eccles are also charming.
I don’t know how readily available this book is—I discovered it at a used book store—and found it clever on so many levels that I bought it. I’ve not read anything else by Matthew, but look for his books every now and then (as you may remember I don’t buy books anymore or at least that’s what I tell my wife) and think he’d be fun to have over for dinner. The book cost two bucks, and has been worth every penny.
But back to the poetry. “Now We Are Sixty” ends with a poem called “Life (after ‘The End’), so here goes:
When I was One
The War had begun.
When I was Ten
It was wartime again.
When I was Twenty
I thought I knew plenty.
When I was Thirty
I liked to be flirty.
When I was Forty
I got rather sporty.
When I was Fifty
I turned very thrifty.
But now that I’m Sixty, I’ve got to confess
That more often than not, I couldn’t care less.
Though I’m not yet 60, it’s a lesson I could learn before my time, so that when I am 60, I can be ahead of the game.