On the occasion of my thirty-second birthday I am thinking about age, of course, and this poem by John Koethe is the perfect companion for such thoughts. What does it mean to be young or even to feel young? How do we feel age at all?
Enjoy the excerpts below, but take 5 minutes to read the original magnificent piece, too. It is so good that I find it sends me to different paths of wonder and delight each time I read it. I dare you to read it and let it lead you to contemplate the beauty of your life.
A Private Singularity
by John Koethe
I used to like being young, and I still do,
Because I think I still am. There are physical
Objections to that thought, and yet what
Fascinates me now is how obsessed I was at thirty-five
With feeling older than I was: it seemed so smart
And worldly, so fastidiously knowing to dwell so much
On time — on what it gives, what it destroys, on how it feels.
And now it’s here and doesn’t feel like anything at all [...]
You find it in yourself: the ways that led inexorably from
Home to here are simply stories now, leading nowhere anymore;
The wilderness they led through is the space behind a door
Through which a sentence flows, following a map in the heart.
Along the way the self that you were born with turns into
The self that you created, but they come together at the end,
United in the memory where time began: [...]
It feels like such a miracle, this life: it promises everything,
And even keeps its promise when you’ve grown too old to care.
It seems unremarkable at first, and then as time goes by it
Starts to seem unreal, a figment of the years inside a universe
That flows around them and dissolves them in the end,
But meanwhile lets you linger in a universe of one —
A village on a summer afternoon, a garden after dark,
A small backyard beneath a boring California sky.
I said I still felt young, and so I am, yet what that means
Eludes me. Maybe it’s the feeling of the presence
Of the past, or of its disappearance, or both of them at once —
A long estrangement and a private singularity, intact
Within a tinkling bell, an iron nail, a pure, angelic clang —
The echo of a clear, metallic sound from childhood,
Where time began: “Oh, beautiful sound, strike again!”