How does the writer use language to get across the theme of the poem?
Old Age Gets Up
Stirs its ashes and embers, its burnt sticks
An eye powdered over, half melted and solid again
Ideas that collapse
At the first touch of attention
The light at the window, so square and so same
So full-strong as ever, the window frame
A scaffold in space, for eyes to lean on
Supporting the body, shaped to its old work
Making small movements in gray air
Numbed from the blurred accident
Of having lived, the fatal, real injury
Under the amnesia
Something tries to save itself-searches
For defenses-but words evade
Like flies with their own notions
Old age slowly gets dressed
Heavily dosed with death's night
Sits on the bed's edge
Pulls its pieces together
Loosely tucks in its shirt
The topic of the poem is ‘Old Age’ as we can see from the title. The first half is sensory impressions and metaphors which get across how it must feel to be old, and the second half follows the title: old age ‘Gets Up’, as if it’s getting up from its chair. This is the personification of Old Age, though, not a specific old person. It is the generalization of an important aspect of human experience.
Structure (how structure builds the theme)
Hughes uses a noticeably irregular structure: many lines are long, but others are only one word long, pushing into a position of emphasis words like ‘ponders’, which is ironic as it’s not naturally an important or meaningful idea - it’s just thinking. In fact, a lot of the poem is about this kind of vague, blurry insubstantiality. There are no full stops: this is thought without end and is full of fragments, which creates a sense of jagged, unstructured thought which rarely condenses into meaning. Interestingly, though this is about old age, most of it is in the present tense. We’d expect the past tense. Hughes challenges our expectation, putting us straight into a moment few would want to inhabit, but which most of us, at some point, will. The present tense zooms in on sense impressions and feels blurry and hard to follow, recreating the experience of old age.
Imagery and Writer's Use of Language (how it builds the theme)
Hughes starts with the images of dead fire, ‘ashes’ and ‘embers’ to evoke the words of the funeral service ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ and also suggests cremation. This is a bleak start to the topic of old age. [a judgement which i have made] The next image is one of flux: of things changing state: from ‘powdered’ to ‘half melted’ and ‘solid again’. This begins to build a feeling of things shifting, vague and ‘blurred’. [Why is he doing this?]
This creates the sensation of old age, as if the reader is trapped inside the feeling of old age. The present tense adds to the confused but vivid sensations. Hughes describes ideas that ‘collapse’ at the first ‘touch’ of attention. It’s like a foggy idea at the back of your mind that collapses as soon as you try to concentrate on it. Old age is wispy, like ‘amnesia’. Its colour is ‘gray’ - evoking grey hair but also a monochrome, faded effect.
The sensory language gives brief flashes of reality in the poem: the window seems ‘full strong’ and ‘so square’ and ‘so same’, emphasizing its vivid presence. In contrast ‘old age’ seems frail and insubstantial. It’s described unspecifically as ‘something’ and ‘words evade’. Old age seems to be a kind of fading out: it’s fractured, in pieces and is struggling ‘pulls its pieces together loosely’. Hughes seems to take a bleak view of life itself describing it as a ‘fatal’ ‘injury’ and ‘accident’. As if life is what causes the damage of old age.
The author, Melanie Kendry, is an Oxford graduate, outstanding-rated English Language and Literature teacher and of ages 10-18 in the British education system. In 2012, she was nominated for Pearson's Teaching Awards. As a private tutor, she raises grades often from C to A. Her writing is also featured in The Huffington Post. She offers private tuition in the Haywards Heath area, West Sussex.