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An old poet scales the age barrier



Among Shakespeare's many insights was the notion that 'crabbed age and youth cannot live together'. Among his reasons was the observation that 'youth is like summer morn, age like winter weather'. How true.

Old hands work typewriterYet crabbed age and youth can interact very well in certain circumstances, and I think that one criterion for evaluating a culture is the way in which youth treats age in the market place. 

In a recent trip on Kalamata's suburban bus, I was joined by four teenage boys who were on their way to an exam. They were rowdy in the extreme, and also inclined to jostle and punch each other. My grandfather, a teacher for 50 years, would have labelled them hobbledehoys or larrikins, but they were simply examples of summer morn, brimming over with health and animal spirits, and probably trying to allay their nerves. Having raised three boys myself, I was simply entertained.

Then an old man boarded the bus, seating himself next to me and behind the boys. He was definitely in the winter of his life: I doubt he'll see 80 again, and I wondered if anyone was looking after him, for he was unshaven, and his jeans, here not the usual garb for an older man, had seen better days.

It was easy to tell he was a traditional Greek, as every time the bus passed a church, he doffed his baseball cap and crossed himself several times. He sat quietly for a few minutes, observing the scene, and then he tapped the nearest boy on the shoulder.

'I'm impressed by your enthusiasm,' he announced, 'and it so happens I've written a poem about that subject. Here it is, my poem called "Enthusiasm",' and he poked around in a tattered plastic bag, eventually giving the boy a printed sheet. The transformation was impressive: a curtain of silence dropped on the noisy four, while they looked at each other, trying to evaluate the situation. They read the poem in turn. Then the first boy said something.

'I can't hear you,' complained the poet. So the boy left his seat to speak directly into the old man's ear. At this point any wayward thoughts I might have had about heedless, uncaring youth were flying rapidly out of the window. What with the noise level in the bus, I couldn't make out what praise had been delivered, but the poet was definitely encouraged. The boy returned to his seat, and then several more sheets were produced from the bag, passed around, and read with grave attention by all four.


"For years now I have subscribed to the belief that creativity, in its many forms, provides at least some protection against depression. The old poet seems to me to be evidence to support my hypothesis."


I was not the only observer of this little scene: a woman across the aisle was taking a marked interest, but not venturing a comment. But her interest did not go unnoticed, and when she got up to leave, she was presented with a sheet of poetry. 'Thank you very much,' she said, politely, and seemed genuinely impressed.

The journey and the reading continued for a few more minutes. Then the old man prepared to alight, and said airily that the four boys could keep the sheets of poetry. The leader of the group once again said something, which once again he had to repeat. 'You should publish a book of these,' he said, and his mates nodded their agreement. It was hard to gauge the poet's reaction, but surely he must have been pleased at this gesture of faith from ones so young? In any case, I was pleased for him.

I've just been reading about the grim prospect of melancholic depression in old age. For years now I have subscribed to the belief that creativity, in its many forms, provides at least some protection against depression. The old poet seems to me to be evidence to support my hypothesis: he must feel his physical powers diminishing, but he keeps on writing. In darker moments I hope haply to think on him.



Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Kalamata, Greece, poetry, old age



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Existing comments

What an uplifting piece of writing to read Gillian as I myself get older. Yes, I think that this type of creativity need not necessarily leave us in our older age. I also can remember myself on a journey I once took on a Greek train where women whom I did not know, shared their home made bread with my wife and I as the two carriage train rattled along the country line which was strewn with countless red poppies. I can also equate with a memorable bus experience down through the stunning mountainous scenery of the the misty Pelopenese, where I also encounter many different types of passengers, encluding an orthordox priest, and a soldier, and many others I have since forgotten. Greece is so full of pleasant little surprises. I do so appreciate your stories and anecdotes.

John Whitehead | 22 June 2018  

Thank you Gillian, I was not sure what to expect but this simple story was well worth reading. It speaks of a shared humanity and a recognition that crosses over age barriers we commonly think are almost barricades. My personal thanks to you for sharing it.

Tony Kelly | 22 June 2018  

i enjoyed this very much and found it as very elevating for my courage to continue to be a creative person.

Noel Jeffs | 22 June 2018  

A beautiful moment, a snapshot of life; so beautifully and attentively captured as always, Gillian. Thank you.

Richardr | 23 June 2018  

I think you’re right that creativity can be a hopeful and joyful part of ageing, Gillian. Some of us are lucky to have the tools to make the most of this. Others may not, sadly. Painting, singing, reading and storytelling are other ways older people can be creative. If we could encourage people of all ages to be creative, what a gift they can take and use throughout life. My own mother loved her garden and knitting. They were her creative outlets. My father didn’t have specific things like that to hold his interest and was quite depressed at times, especially after his wife, our mother, died. An English teacher, he had a gift for words. I gave him a recorder to tell his life story which he did beautifully. We are so fortunate to have these recordings now. The old man in your story had the confidence to show his work to others. I’m glad those young boys received his poems so respectfully.

Kate Sommerville | 23 June 2018  

Yes, that summer morn rowdiness of youth in groups - excitement in being with mates (whether all males or all females) which can seem initially threatening - but is usually not - merely the exuberance of energy finding its release in hijinks or voices clamouring to be heard. And the contrast with those of us of a certain age conserving our energy, taking care with our steps - and well-acculturated into politeness when out in public. But as you have done here - seeing in those zestful youngsters your own children or grand-children shifts the lens - to indulgence and protective interpretation. As when we drive and see younger people on their bikes - we swerve wide - thinking - if that were my spouse or my child or my grand-child - I would want others to do likewise. Back to your reflections - and the old man with his poetry - a truly poignant moment for the lads and for him and for you and the other watcher - a sharing of wonder - cross-generational appreciation by those with seniority and by and of the exchange with the coming generation - just short of their majority. Lessons all round. And thanks for your finding the lessons of life in the everyday of a local bus trip.

Jim KABLE | 24 June 2018  

A beautifully edifying story, Gillian! I recently had a 'bus-moment' (actually, 40 minutes'worth'), of an elderly Italian gentleman relating in impeccable English to the predominantly Asian passengers, students en route for university, the wonders of studying Homer's "Odyssey", Dante's "Divine Comedy" and the Greek dramatists, works he had studied as a schoolboy. Most of his captured audience removed their earplugs from their mobiles and listened intently, many applauding at the end. Wonderful!

John | 25 June 2018  

Hi Gillian, thank you for this simple, uplifting story. I particularly liked the phrase "they were simply examples of summer morn, brimming over with health and animal spirits". So descriptive, so apt.

Brett | 25 June 2018  

A wise, mature and insightful article, Gillian.

Edward Fido | 25 June 2018  

Perhaps one angel disembarked, his work done, or four did.

Roy Chen Yee | 28 June 2018  

I think most people are kind, young or old. I'm not sure those boys were interested in poetry but they were kind enough to show the respect that this senior citizen merited. Good on them, they made other people feel better and it may be that having read a few lines of his poem some small spark may have kindled something.

Stephen | 01 July 2018  

Thank you Gillian for an inspiring story of old age where the power of creativity gives such meaning to life. In reading the comments, I wonder if Kate Somerville’s father was the teacher who taught English to my husband at Kaniva Consolidated School?

Robyn Jewell | 24 July 2018  

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