July 28th, 2012

Time, you old gipsy man

Five guys at the lake decide to recreate a photograph of themselves over and over, showing the passage of time [hat tip: Althouse].

Take a look and note that, just as I wrote here, age doesn’t really catch up with most people till they hit that late-40s wall—and it doesn’t catch up with all of them even then:

I’ve noticed in my own life and among my friends, as well as for public figures, that visible aging doesn’t progress in smooth linear fashion. It advances in fits and starts and discrete bumps.

One year I look around at my friends at the Christmas party and everybody looks pretty darn good. The next year I wonder who all these old folk are. In their thirties and forties the aging process seems so slow and gentle as to be almost stagnant; most people seem to go on and on looking almost like they did in their twenties.

There’s a group who hit the aging wall in their mid-to-late forties, going almost overnight from young to oldish. They’re the canaries in the mine. Another bunch “turn” quite suddenly in their late fifties, with the early sixties a time of particular peril for many.

I think you’ll agree that for the five brave men* who took these photos, there’s a bigger leap between the second-to-last photo (taken in 2007, when they were all around 44), and the last one (taken in 2012, when they were all close to 50) than in the previous five-year gaps. I’ll reproduce just the very first one (1982) and then those last two for comparison:

Ah, but just you wait, guys. It’s the next 10 or 15 that will tell the tale.

The poets tell the tale, too. There’s Andrew Marvell in “To His Coy Mistress“:

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity…

This one is from a response by Archibald Macleish called “You, Andrew Marvell,” that always gives me the chills:

And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth’s noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night:

To feel creep up the curving east
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow…

(The elipsis is especially apropos, and the poem even ends with one…)

For a lighter and once-quite-popular version of the idea, a poem I was familiar with in my youth:

Time, you old gipsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?

All things I’ll give you
Will you be my guest,
Bells for your jennet
Of silver the best,
Goldsmiths shall beat you
A great golden ring,
Peacocks shall bow to you,
Little boys sing.
Oh, and sweet girls will
Festoon you with may,
Time, you old gipsy,
Why hasten away?…

And still another, by Tennyson:

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more…

[*Although the men may be brave, they’re not brave enough to keep taking their shirts off, are they?]

14 Responses to “Time, you old gipsy man”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    Then there’s Auden…. perhaps more attuned to this time:

    Time that is intolerant
    Of the brave and the innocent,
    And indifferent in a week
    To a beautiful physique,

    Worships language and forgives
    Everyone by whom it lives;
    Pardons cowardice, conceit,
    Lays its honours at their feet.

    Time that with this strange excuse
    Pardoned Kipling and his views,
    And will pardon Paul Claudel,
    Pardons him for writing well.

  2. Curtis Says:

    Time is not a pardon chit
    which bell and ring ring of it.
    Song and longing and a Voice
    of Action take lonely force
    but stand lacking misery
    and no Mater in Mater Dei.

    Help us, there is no love from
    the eternity to come.

  3. GoneWithTheWind Says:

    After my parents died I inherited all the family pictures. I spent a lot of time researching the ones I didn’t recognize some going back before 1900. But what really stuck with me was how attractive people were in their teens who I only knew when they were very old. My grandmother was beautiful as were some of my aunts. It is haunting to look at my grandmother at 16 in 1898.

  4. RigelDog Says:

    I was thinking of Tennyson just yesterday….been struggling with rather suddenly feeling old-assed. Last kid just off to college, yada yada yada, and at my alma mater no less. Ah, death in life—the days that are no more.

  5. Terrye Says:

    I did not really change all that much until my late 50s and then bam! I got old.

  6. Jim Nicholas Says:

    Every once in a while I see myself in a mirroring surface I was unaware existed, such as a shop window as I am walking along the sidewalk. It takes a moment to realize that the image I am seeing is my own, and that image looks older than my day-to-day self-image. That discrepancy has existed as long as I can remember–as least for the last 60 years.


  7. Pat Says:

    My wife went off to her posh High School 50th reunion and returned with a few pictures. Almost all of her former school mates were obese. She wasn’t. She looked like a rose among weeds.

    If you don’t look after yourself after age 40, you go to seed very quickly.

  8. Curtis Says:

    I am a tuuuuurd among roses.


  9. Mac Says:

    “Every once in a while I see myself in a mirroring surface I was unaware existed, such as a shop window…”

    I’ve had that experience several times. What’s most shocking to me is not so much my age, which is bad enough, as my size. I don’t think anyone would describe me as fat, although I would certainly benefit from losing 15 pounds or so. But I’m just bulkier overall than I was in the years (teens and early 20s) when my self-image was formed. I’m supposed to be a scrawny nerd-bookworm type, 5’9″ and 140 pounds. But someone actually referred to me as “beefy” a few years ago.

    Still nerdy, alas.

  10. TheOtherLarry Says:

    You spend the first 40 years of your life fighting gravity and the second 40 years losing to it.


    an Old Fart

  11. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    Much truth to the comments here.

    The pictures are bad enough. But the mirror is the real shocker. Keep wondering who that old man is looking back at me every morning. It certainly can’t be me. As Jack Benny always said, “I’m 39 and holding.” No 39 year old ever looked that bad. It reminds of the old saying, “If I’d known I was going tio live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

    Must keep reminding self that whatever condition I’m in it beats the alternative.

  12. sharpie Says:

    Don’t worry about it JJ. You are as ugly as you look, and probably uglier. Do a full body strip mirror look. Uh-huh.

    But isn’t that the point. Nature does not reward old age. Nature has been subjected to corruption.

    There is a rumour that Nature answers to Someone and that Someone, who gave life in the first place, can obviously do so again.

  13. IGotBupkis -- "Faecies Evenio", Mr. Holder? Says:

    Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren’t lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.

    — Dorothy Parker


  14. IGotBupkis -- "Faecies Evenio", Mr. Holder? Says:

    >>>> I was in the years (teens and early 20s) when my self-image was formed.

    That’s when everyone’s self-image is formed.

    No one ever got any older deeeeeep down inside than that self image.

    Yeah, we look in the mirror and see someone we know is us, but FACE IT — that’s not REALLY **US**. It’s just the space suit we wear, getting a bit rougher around the edges.

    It’s what leads us to do silly things like date much younger women and men, to wear clothes styled for a much younger and better looking person, and so forth.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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