of growing older
spreads fluttering winds
from year to year
stilled by hope
of gigantic success
time and exploration
a sudden throb of
pain. Laboratory tests
have nothing to show
in domesticity allow
no sudden leaps
at the noon now
with red ink
nothing to show the world
Three children perhaps
the world expects
it of you. No
specialist’s effort there.
But science gives hope
of twice three score
and ten. Hope
is not a grain of sand.
dwindles in sharp
blades of expectation.
From now on the world has you.
About the Poet
Lenrie Peters (1932-2009) wrote the poem The Panic of Growing Older. He was a Gambian writer, poet, singer, broadcaster and surgeon. He studied in Gambia, Sierra Leone and England. He published his collection of poems titled Satellites in 1967. Though renowned for his poems, he has a novel to his credit titled The Second Round. In The Panic of Growing Older, the poet brought to bear his medical background as he described the physiological and psychological process of aging.
The poem is about the different phases of human development starting from birth through adulthood and old age. The aging process is slow: spreads fluttering winds from year to year.
In the second stanza, the poet describes what happens in early adulthood. This period is filled with high expectations, hopes, ambition, and adventure. One also has the advantage of time: At twenty/stilled by hope/ of gigantic success/ time and exploration.
The next stanza describes age thirty as the period when one begins to experience pain that lacks medical explanation: At thirty a sudden throb of pain. Laboratory tests have nothing to show.
The fourth stanza portrays what happens in old age. As one approaches old age, weakness sets in and one loses agility: Legs cribbed /in domesticity allow/ no sudden leaps/ at the noon now. Often, one spends all his years on earth trying to copy others without success: Copybook bisected /with red ink and failures. In the end, he has nothing to show the world except children which the poet does not consider an achievement: Three children perhaps/ the world expects /it of you. No/ specialist’s effort there.
Although science gives hope of living up to seventy years, this is not a sure fact: But science gives hope of twice three score and ten. Hope is not a grain of sand. In old age, the thoughts of unfulfilled dreams and aspirations bring weakness to the mind: Inner satisfaction dwindles in sharp blades of expectation.
With not much time left, the aged has very little control of his life and simply resigns to fate: From now on the world has you.
This is a free verse poem with no consistent meter pattern or rhyme scheme. It has eight stanzas written in short phrases and arranged chronologically. Each stanza describes the different phases of life.
The poem’s language is simple. However, the poet uses symbols to represent the aging process. Examples include: “legs cribbed”, “throb of pain”.
The poem’s main theme is the fear of aging or growing old. Other themes are mortality of man and life’s uncertainties.
Mood and Tone
The mood is passive. Though the pain associated with aging is undesirable, the poet accepts that aging is inevitable. The tone is calm.
1. Metaphor: Example- “fluttering winds” which describes the anxiety of aging.
2. Symbols: Examples- “sudden throb of pain“,”legs cribbed” represent weakness associated with aging. “Hope of gigantic success/ time and exploration” represent the youthful age.
3. Repetition: The word “hope” was repeated in the seventh stanza.
4. Alliteration: Example- “from year to year”
What other figures of speech can you identify in this poem?