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Old 08-28-2018, 11:58 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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Default When I am old

Mediocre Waters

When I am old, I will look back and say:
those were the years when I drifted –

not so much treading water
as floating on my back on its surface,

the water never warm enough to warm my body,
never cold enough to force me out;

occasionally a small wave
would ripple over my face,

and I would splash and splutter and struggle,
then stretch back out again.

----
New title, "when I lost interest", becomes "when I drifted".



----

When I am old (original)

When I am old, I will look back and say:
those were the years when I lost interest –

not so much treading water
as floating on my back on its surface,

the water never warm enough to warm my body,
never cold enough to force me out;

occasionally a small wave
would ripple over my face,

and I would splash and splutter and struggle,
then stretch back out again.


-------
S3L1 full-stop becomes semicolon

Last edited by Matt Q; 09-07-2018 at 04:09 AM.
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Old 08-28-2018, 01:00 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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I'm not going to try to say too much about this poem. I like it. I wonder what "old" is? I assume since the subjunctive is used throughout the narrator is in a period between old age and when he "lost interest." I like how we learn that second-hand.

On a more personal note, and your poem speaks to me, I can remember when I lost interest. Maybe I lost more enthusiasm than interest but that's splitting hairs. I love the metaphor of floating in mediocre water although my experience was less relaxed than that. It doesn't matter. This is a poem that speaks clearly and directly to me. I don't know if someone who hasn't had the experience will value it as much. Maybe someone can speak to that.

Good poem, Matt. Thanks for posting it.
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Old 08-28-2018, 02:05 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Matt, I'm 80 and this is nothing like my experience, so far, but your images are interesting. For tense consistency, shouldn't line one be

If I were old I would. . . ?
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Old 08-28-2018, 03:16 PM
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Woody Long Woody Long is offline
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Matt —

I think it is a puzzle that the N, implicitly, is not old but tells the reader what the N will do when old. This asks the reader to entertain something of a speculation about the future.

I believe the poetic effect of the images would be strengthened considerably if the N is presented as already old. Or maybe move the poem to the present tense & say something about "now that I am almost old" & then go on to the images.

I assume this is supposed to be poetry, not autobiography and the N is fictive.

It does occur to me that the poem is trying to tell us something about the N in the present. If that is the case, then more detail is probably needed. Maybe just something in the first couple of lines to make it clear that the N will look back on "these days" (i.e. the fictive present time).

— Woody

P.S. - I'm reminded of this poem:

Looking Forward

When I am grown to man's estate
I shall be very proud and great,
And tell the other girls and boys
Not to meddle with my toys.


Robert Louis Stevenson

which juggles the past & future to poetic effect

Last edited by Woody Long; 08-28-2018 at 03:42 PM. Reason: trying to articulate, then added RLS poem for comparison
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Old 08-28-2018, 04:57 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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My assumption isn't that the poem is autobiographical. Regardless of how it came about it does speak to me.
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Old 08-28-2018, 06:30 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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I am always impressed with the way you go about dissecting poems, so here goes...

The N is not old, but is projecting in a metaphorical way how he might sum up his life when he arrives at old age.
Those were the years I lost interest confuses me. Which are "those" years? When he was younger or when he becomes old? In fact, the whole poem seems to twist and lurch from future to past to present. It's all rolled into one, though I don't know if that's your intention.

I don't know why the N had become apathetic in his younger years towards life, but I can understand that it can happen. Passivity vs. aggression... reaction vs. projection, aloofness vs. interaction... it's a condition some assume for any number of reasons. It's easier than being committed, I suppose. "Floating" rather than treading or swimming. It's a way of not drowning. The metaphor of water as life and how it's neither warming or refreshing, how it "washes over" you sometimes but that, too, passes. It's all commentary on the blandness that life can sometimes take on.

It seems to be something of a personal philosophy on living. It's oddly sad yet liberating.

And now I've noticed I never dissected the poem but instead interpreted it. I'm an old dog that dreams of learning new tricks : )
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Old 08-29-2018, 01:01 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is online now
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Hi Matt,

A metaphor you've used before, which I like. That is, I like the metaphor and I like how its reappearance gives your body of work thematic richness (though I think this stands alone without knowing your other poems).

The time-frame seems simple enough to me: 'those years' that the N anticipates looking back on are the 'now', the present. Right now the N is in this state of stasis or depression, and yet accepting of it and only sporadically aware of its potential dangers. The opening (When I am old I will look back) is touchingly, desperately hopeful. A clutching at straws that there will at least be some future where this feeling no longer permeates.

The main metaphor itself is vivid because it is realistically described, particularly in the final image of the moments of occasional panic, the 'splash and splutter and struggle'. This is how it feels to float on one's back.

I suppose I do read autobiography into this, which could just be my default tendency, which prompts me to hope you're ok.

It's a very good poem.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 08-29-2018 at 01:58 AM.
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Old 08-29-2018, 01:54 AM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
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I agree with Mark about the timescale.

The N is adrift. He tells himself it's not a bad place to be, but now and again he fears he may be drowning and struggles a little. But it will be all right. Later. That's what everybody tells him isn't it? "Later, you'll look back on this and..."

There's a fine line between waving and drowning and it's not always easy for those ashore to catch the nuance. Maybe I'm projecting too much here. If so, I apologise. I see the poem as a perfect picture of a state of mind, the writing of it as a quiet triumph.
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Old 08-29-2018, 02:28 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Matt,

I enjoy the simplicity of this, and though I don't feel quite the connection that John does, I think it works. I wonder if you could push on the meanings of "interest"? It strikes me that you aren't fully exploiting it, and might want to consider it's economic meanings in the water puns, so that the poem can go in more directions.

Not to condescend, but some simple words that I thought up that have potentially related resonances to consider that would bring that out:

account
aid
appreciation
asset
balance
bank
benefit
bond
bubble
capital
cost
crisis
currency
cycle
credit
gain
share
stagnation
sunk costs
trust
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Old 08-30-2018, 06:41 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is online now
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John, Ralph, Woody, Jim, Mark, Annie, Andrew

Thank for all for your comments.

John, Ralph, Woody, Jim. In terms of what's happening with time here, I had intended it how Mark and Annie read it: everything from L2 on is what the N imagines he will say when he's old and looks back on now. So in the now he's floating on his back. I can see now that it's not as clear as I'd thought. I hope I've made that clearer by replacing the full stop at the end of S2L3 with a semicolon, to show that what was the second sentence is still what he's saying. Does that help at all?

John,

I'm pleased this speaks to you, and I really like the phrase "mediocre water" and may have to steal it.

Ralph,

It's good that you've not experienced a period of being adrift. I hope your point about the tense is addressed by the revision.

Woody,

I think this would lose something were he already old. Or at least, what I'm trying to present is the experience of now in terms of looking ahead to looking back, which seems more emotionally nuanced than simply looking back from old age.

As for poetry and autobiography, I guess I imagine a Venn diagram with an intersection.

Jim

Thanks for telling me how you read this. I do find this kind of feedback very helpful. Is "those" still confusing? "when I am old I will look back and say: those were the years when ...". If he's looking back, doesn't "those" refer to what he's looking back at? And given "were" those years must be in the past. I'm not sure I can see how to read it any differently.

Mark

Thank you, I'm glad it's working for you, and thanks for telling me how your read it. And yes, it's a metaphor I've used before a few times. It speaks to me. And living by the sea, I do a fair bit of it.

Annie

Thank you, and thanks for letting me know how your read it. Your comment made me think about calling this something like "Neither waving nor drowning", or maybe "Not waving or drowning", though the Stevie Smith reference might overpower the poem and maybe gives too much away in advance. Still, I do think there's a better title somewhere.

Andrew

I'd not thought about that angle at all. Yes, he's losing interest in that sense too. Life is passing him by; he's not investing in it. I'll have to think about that. Thanks for pointing it out.

Thanks again all.

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 08-30-2018 at 07:03 PM.
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