It’s the custom among mathematicians that when you reach age 60, you’re put on an ice floe with a day’s supply of walrus meat and set adrift.

But I’m not a mathematician.

Computer scientists get a few years’ grace. Because they count in binary, for them the dreaded end of productive intellectual life is put off until age 26.

I’m not a computer scientist either. I’m a writer. This is no dispensation, however; the literary world also worships precocity. Byron said it: “Is there anything in the future that can possibly console us for not being always twenty-five?” I took an even harder line in my own youth. At age 16, when I ran away from home to write a novel, I vowed that I would be a famous author by 22 or find an ice floe and make an end of it.

And today I am 60–1, and I find I am not yet quite ready to be set out to sea. I look back to the poets who seemed so intensely young when I was young, and I find they have aged well. Here’s George Herbert:

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recovered greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

. . .

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my onely light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.

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3 Responses to 59

  1. rms says:

    happy birthday! (no factorial meaning)

  2. Jim Ward says:

    Set out to sea or set to sea?

    There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
    There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
    Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,–
    That ever with a frolic welcome took
    The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
    Free hearts, free foreheads,– you and I are old;
    Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
    Death closes all; but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.


  3. Barry Cipra says:

    As J. Alfred so poetically put it,

    I grow old… I grow old…
    I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

    While you’re out there on your ice floe, listen for the mermaids singing, each to each.