There is always this fear that grips a person in the course of growing older — a period a person is exposed to the world and its responsibilities. “The Panic of Growing Older” is a poem by Lenrie Peterson which centres on the mortality of human existence. He paints a picture of a contest between youthfulness and old age, between hope and expectations, between optimism and dwindling satisfaction, between physical strength and mortal weakness. We are born, we move about with various ambitions but at the end, we are left with dwindling satisfaction. This essay aims to explain Lenrie’s view of ageing in his poem “The Panic of Growing Older”
This poem is a realistic poem. It is one which the poet uses to present an ever-present problem plaguing humanity — that is, old age. The poet depicts this problem and all that it comes with through the different stanzas. He, not only, captures the ephemeral fruitful years of a person’s life — age twenty (At age twenty, still by hope of gigantic success..) — but also, describes the unproductive years — from thirty years upward.
Through the poet’s choice of words which describe the poet’s feelings on the subject matter and of course, the pessimistic tone of the persona, one can without any iota of doubt say that the persona has a pessimistic view about ageing. This is reinforced by the title of the poem, “The Panic of Growing Older”. The use of the word “panic” undoubtedly expresses the poet’s fear of ageing and all it entails — that is, one has no choice but to be in a state of sheer panic and misery as old age looms. In fact, the persona describes this panic as being overwhelming because it grows stronger by the day. This is exemplified by the lines below:
Of growing older
Spreads fluttering wings
From year to year”
Of course, the persona cannot adopt a pessimistic without having cogent reasons. One of the reasons for the poet's pessimistic stance as regards ageing is that old age comes with fear and anxiety. The "panic" having to do with growing old is tied to what one has set out to achieve and the reality of his life. Although they are people who have achieved a lot in a short life span, Lenrie Peters writes on behalf of the people who live to their old age with no inner satisfaction. The initial excitement in youthfulness does not often last into old age. Peters does not appreciate this. Perhaps, this fear and anxiety may be as a result of one's closeness to death. Although Lenrie Peters does not make mention of death in his poem, we can only infer that an old person's looming death will only increase his panic when he remembers the plethora of things he failed to achieve during his golden years.
Another reason for Lenrie Peter’s pessimism is that old age comes with stressed responsibilities — more things to do. Before we go into Peters’ view of ageing as regards to stressful responsibility, let us put it in a more realistic form. At twenty, one is free and young and one can easily engage in any social activity, plan one’s day-to-day activities and make decisions. To summarise, you have your personal space and the poet acknowledge this fact as exemplified in stanza 2:
Stilled by hope
Of gigantic success
Time and exploration”.
He even points out that youths have time to explore and have fun. Life is like a bed of roses to them. However, this excitements never last. At thirty, you feel this “…sudden throb of pain”. This is not unusual because it happens as a result of the heavy burden one bears. Responsibilities reach its maximum and you lack time for yourself and dreams. One marries and is involved in raising a family. Now, you are tied down. The poet persona thus puts it this way:
In domesticity allow
No sudden leaps
At the moon now”.
To crown it all up, these burdens are there to stay forever. When your bones are too weak and you are drawing closer to death, you think of the years you have spent on this earth only to realizes it cannot be equalled to your achievement. You see yourself helpless with a dwindling inner satisfaction. Therefore, one can be justified to say that the poet takes this pessimistic view as a result of the stressful responsibility attached to ageing.
Lastly, pessimism is highlighted in this text through the theme of failure. The persona presents his life as one with a lot of unfulfilled dreams. The optimism that was present in his early life has suddenly evaporated; and now, he is faced by a reality of failures. He has nothing to show the world as his achievements except his family (children). Even at that, the poet is aware that procreation requires no specialist effort so he truly has nothing to show in terms of achievement. The realisation that his life has been one of multiple failures undoubtedly contribute to the poet’s pessimistic view on ageing.
In conclusion, this essay has comprehensively commented on the way the persona views ageing in the poem “The Panic of Growing Older”. This essay described the persona’s view as one which is deeply rooted in pessimism as a result of several factors that come with ageing. It is believed that the simplistic methods and words used in this essay have been able to pass the message across.