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Understanding mental capacity
Understanding mental capacity

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1.1 Getting old: what do we expect?

Poetry is a way of expressing subtle and sometimes complex ideas that are less easy to grasp when articulated in other ways. For example, the poem in Box 1, ‘When I am old’ by Margaret Sangster, was written in the nineteenth century and looks forward into old age. It touchingly captures the likely mixture of longing and regret. It also seems to anticipate and perhaps accept the inevitability of the passing of the years, hoping for clarity and wisdom in older age.

Box 1 When I am old

When I am old and drenched in worlds of sadness,  

And wear a lacy cap upon my head;  

When, looking past the future’s singing gladness,  

I linger, wistful, in the years long dead. 

When I am old, and young folk all about me,  

Speak softly of religion, when they speak,  

When parties are a grand success without me;  

And when my laugh is fluttering and weak.  


Will I then be content to raise my glances,  

Serenely to the cloud-entangled sky? 

And will I be content to watch at dances,  

Without a heartbreak, as the hours pass by?  

Or when I see young lovers fingers twine,  

Will I remember, dear, your lips on mine? 

Margaret Elizabeth Sangster (1838–1912)

Activity 1 Poems of old age

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Spend a few minutes searching online for poems about old age. You will find that this generates a large amount of material. Read at least twoof these poems and note down some of the insights they give you about older people.

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Poems about old age often incorporate elements of regret, along with a sense of things settling and resolving over time. Frequently there is humour about the loss of faculties such as memory and mobility, along with relief at being far less concerned by the value judgements of others and an acceptance of at last being comfortable with who they are.

Some poems reflect on the youth of the day, asking them to appreciate that one day they too will be in the position of looking back, musing on their own lives. But this is usually with an acknowledgment that the innocence and privilege of youth make it less likely that they will look that far ahead.