Study Guide

The Seafarer Old Age

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Old Age

[…] The glory is fled,
the nobility of the world          ages and grows sere,
as now does every man          throughout the world.

These lines compare the decline of the world's nobility to the aging of a single person. The idea here is that the world's nobility doesn't just go out like a light. Instead, it slowly fades away, pathetically. The same is true of a person, who, in old age, withers toward death.

Age comes upon him          his face grows pale. (91)

Instead of saying a person ages, this line speaks of age coming upon a person, like an independent force that overtakes him. We have to say, it's a little terrifying.

The graybeard laments. […] (92)

This guy is so old, he's literally nothing but a gray beard. Now that's aging.

[…] he knows that his old friends,
the sons of princes,          have been given to the earth.

As it turns out, aging comes with a whole pile of emotional suffering, too. Even the most powerful people, like "sons of princes" will eventually kick the bucket, and their friends will have to say goodbye.

His body fails then,          as life leaves him—
he cannot taste sweetness          nor feel pain,
nor move his hand          nor think with his head.

Just as age was an independent force that "came upon" a man, so here is life a force that can come and go at will, at this point departing from the failing body. If there's one thing that's sure in this poem, it's that man doesn't seem to have any control at all over what's happening to him. So why, then, make the effort to live humbly if you don't have any power in the first place?

Though he would strew          the grave with gold,
a brother for his kinsman,          bury with the dead
a mass of treasure,          it just won't work—

The elderly person who watches his friend die attempts to provide him with gold as a form of comfort. This gold is almost like a substitute for the elderly person himself, who would like to accompany his friend in death as he did in life. Yet the process ultimately fails, since no one can carry wealth with him beyond the grave. You can't take it with you.

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