“…And O! But she had stories
Though not for the priest’s ear,
To keep the soul of man alive
And banish age and care.
And being old she put a skin
On everything she said-
What shall I do for pretty girls
Now my old bawd is dead? “
—W.B Yeats, from “John Kinsella’s Lament for Mrs Mary Moore”
Good luck finding out who this “John Kinsella” was. Obvs not the Australian poet,still living. Mrs. Moore was an actress.
I’ve known this poem, or at least the last 2 lines, which are a chorus or coda repeated after each verse, for decades.
Today, be it known: I lay claim to it! Here I raise mine Ebenezer. (No that line always makes me laugh…hooo! Okay:Onward! )
My paternal grandmother’s last name was Moore, but that surname is as common as the grains of sand on the beach. The Moore the merrier, we might say! No, that isn’t why. Rather, it’s the lines:
“ And being old she put a skin /On everything she said…”
“Put a skin”….maybe you hafta be old to have that strike you. After decades of life, no idea, no thought, no word, comes before you naked. Or rather, when it does, you in your accumulated wisdom assign it its integument. . YOU “put a skin” (and BTW, I salute those one syllable words, like an axe stroke, an anvil blow…the veritable music of Anglo-Saxon poetry, the “iron of English” as MacLeish called it) YOU, the seasoned veteran of the world, of time and times, put a skin on them all.
Isnt that what ”style”means? Can AI counterfeit that? (I’m asking, in light of recent posts here; maybe it can, for all I know…)
But I just wanted to tell someone:
When I join Mrs. Mary Moore in oblivion, I would like to be remembered as a woman who “had stories/ to banish age and care” , and “put a skin/ on everything she said”.
In Larry Niven’s “Known Space” universe, humans are descended from a lost colony of a species called Pak, who arrived on Earth 2.5 million years ago and evolved into Homo habilis and eventually modern humans. Pak have three stages of life, Children, Breeders, and Protectors. Toward the end of their lives as Breeders (around age 40), they develop a craving for the root of a plant called the Tree of Life in which a symbiotic virus causes them to transform into the Protector stage.
A Protector’s joints expand to give his muscles a greater momentum, his skin wrinkles into a tough armor, and his nails turn into retractile claws. A second heart develops near the groin, the mouth fuses into a beak, and all sexual characteristics disappear. The most important change is that the brain expands, giving a Protector a tremendous intellect. A Protector has no motivation other than the preservation of his bloodline, and to that end the Pak homeworld is never free from war, since all Protectors are constantly trying to ensure their progeny’s survival at the expense of everyone else. If a Protector has no children left, he no longer feels the urge to eat and dies unless he can adopt the entire Pak race and work towards their benefit.
Humans, as decendants of the Pak, reach the threshold of this transformation in their forties, but since the Tree of Life does not grow on Earth, do not progress to the Protector stage. However, some of the secondary characteristics (expanded joints, wrinkled skin, losing sexual characteristics, etc.) appear and are considered “consequences of aging”. If a human consumes Tree of Life at this age, they become a human Protector, as happened to Jack Brennan in Niven’s novel Protector.
It’s not second puberty, it’s failed Protectorhood.
That is fascinating, it’s like a male version of the “croning ceremony”. Why do women live so long after we’re no longer fertile? One theory is to fulfill the “Nursey” rôle.
I’d be very happy to do that—although I don’t think I’ll live that long!
But what I’m saying here is I’d rather be remembered for my words, oral and written. “Words alone are certain good” as Yeats says elsewhere.
Since I hafta get old, lemme be the Old Bawd.
Google Bard kept telling me there was no John Kinsella in the title, after taking several tries to identify it as a poem by Yeats. I’ll spare you the lengthy discussion except the end, which I’m guessing is incorrect:
“I apologize for the confusion. The poem you are referring to is called “Lament for Mrs. Mary Moore” and was written by W.B. Yeats. The title of the poem is “John Kinsella’s Lament for Mrs. Mary Moore” because it is written from the perspective of John Kinsella, a fictional character in the poem.”
It isn’t just women and fertility: most mammals, from rabbits to elephants and whales, live for about one billion heartbeats. Their lifespan and metabolism vary widely, but the number of heartbeats is about the same.
Do you see the outlier? Humans live around twice as long as they “should”, measured in heartbeats. Even our close ape relatives still live around one billion heartbeats, not two. Why is this? One theory is the “grandparent” or “elder” hypothesis. Because humans have large brains and depend on exosomatic knowledge being transmitted across the generations, populations with long-lived elders who accumulate this knowledge and pass it on to the two next generations are more successful than those who die off shortly after their reproductive years. Tribes with tribal elders out-compete those without them.
What about chickens? They aren’t mammals, and birds live much longer than they “should ” compared to mammals. It’s probably the mitochondria.
I prefer the one (possibly apocryphal) about Churchill, then in his 90s:
When informed, on a cold winter day, that a 70-something member of his club had been arrested for exposing himself to young ladies in the park, he said, “Over 70 and below zero. Makes one proud to be an Englishman!”
“Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
Who had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
turned to a drunken journalist—
A girl who 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 upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken, happy mind,
No finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort.
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.”