Portrait of the Poet as an Old Man

This is a poem that needs no introduction, no explanation and might suffer if one tried to assume too much meaning.

Portrait of the Poet as an Old Man


He reflects on drafts of dreadful drivel

Time passes quickly before his sore eyes

On his hands the skin seems slowly to shrivel

He feels a finger – in time a digit dies

How death looms large in later life

Tinged and singed by trouble and strife

He sighs “if age, alone, could make one wise.”


Manuscript has long ceded to the keyboard’s sound

And miraculous music now unmuted

No longer does his work break any new ground

To an ever-smaller readership it seems suited

For his years have allowed him to no longer care

Whether sight of his verse makes them stop and stare

Or if more or less followers can be recruited


It takes cold courage to continue to write

When there is no need to earn reward

Convinced he must appear to fight the good fight

To depict the pen mightier than anyone’s sword

And that one writer’s poetry is another man’s prose

A story whose meaning no-one ever knows

In some book that nobody wants to afford


There was an epoch when all this was pure passion

Surrounded by people revelling in his art

No need to heed the followers of fashion

Amongst the unread one can always seem smart

But reality strikes when least expected

Though there may be no reason or rhyme rejected

Self-image and reflection at last drift apart


Frequently he thought the moment arrived

When someone, somewhere had seen some light

Amongst the darkness where doom has thrived

Seeping through the latest literary night

From whence a spark of talent or skill

Like a bird of prey swooping in for the kill

Would descend, just once, to make his writing right


Existence always gives way to another state

Of mind or body – one cannot know

But he dwells upon his poetry’s fate

Forever and ever will continue the show

For what is held within one reader’s mind

Will remain for a future generation to find

To ensure his demise will be long and slow


Now he hears the discomforting sound

Of those who would literary rebellion ban

Those who say that true art can know no bound

Yet criticise expression that follows a plan

He reverts to type, or smartphone or pen

To perfect a piece that pleases no men

A portrait of the poet as an old man