Growing Old (Matthew Arnold) Analysis
“What is it to grow old?”
Written by Matthew Arnold in 1867 (Flesch, 2009), the poem Growing Old explores the various discourses often associated with aging. At the age of 19, Arnold’s father died (The Famous People, 2014), which suggests that exposure to the realities of death led him to construct the critical poem Growing Old. Specifically speaking, the poem juxtaposes common misconceptions and clichés of life with the realities of aging and death. These elements form the two overarching themes of the poem, which contribute to the underlying theme of ‘Growing Pains’.
The themes of growth and the fallacies associated with old age and death are vital components of the poem. Consisting of seven stanzas of five lines, each containing the syllabic pattern 6-10-6-10, the poem’s rhythm engages the audience and utilises aesthetically pleasing sounds, typical of traditional poetry. In stanza one, Arnold utilises rhetorical questions and visual imagery to depict the clichéd attributes of old age. Through the use of imagery and personification of beauty, the poet begins to construct the stereotypes of old age. In stanza two, through the use of antithesis, as evident in the words “bloom” (2,2) and “decay” (2,2), Arnold juxtaposes youth with old age, suggesting that growth brings with it external and internal physical weaknesses. In stanza three, the poet exclaims that growing old was “not what in youth [he] dreamed ‘twould be!” (3,2) Here, the clichéd assumptions of age and death are epitomised. In the final two lines of the third stanza, Arnold utilises euphemisms to describe death as “a golden day’s decline” (3,5). In conjunction with metaphors linking death with the gradual, mellow setting of the sun, these aesthetic features create an aura of warmth and serenity associated with death. The themes of growth and the misconceptions associated with old age and death form key concepts in the poem, but are juxtaposed by their negative realities espoused by the poet.
The theme of reality underpins the poem and its effect on the reader. Throughout stanza one to four, the poet outlines various inaccurate views of old age; however, a shift occurs in stanza five when Arnold refutes the utopian-like suggestion that old age is a warm and welcoming experience. The poet explains what old age is, as opposed to what it is not. “To spend long days and not once feel that we were ever young” (5,2) is an example of enjambment that enhances the sense of length, contributing to the numbed sensation of old age. Arnold continues with an implied metaphor “immured in the prison of the present” (5,4) to indicate the negativity of old age across the ravages of...