Another word for old — a poem

Photo of houses on a hill plus the shadow of another house

Houses on a hill: four real, one but a shadow of a reflection.

Old is a word that daily grows more vague
and more distasteful for the semi-old.
We dread the word because we dread the fact.
Older gives grammatical offence
(“Older than whom?” goes that debate).
Elder carries too much churchy weight
Elderly shrieks frailty and leaks.
Senior wraps up half the human race.
Ageing wraps up all the human race.
Unyoung is a harmless joke
Old is a word that daily grows more vague.

The word I like this year is seventy-nine.
A number means the same to everyone.
A number is not pathetic or heroic
it is a simple fact, a mark on a scale
a neutral word that never fails
never teases, never whines.
The word I like this year is seventy-nine.

Photo and poem by Rachel McAlpine cc by-2.0

33 thoughts on “Another word for old — a poem

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I have been embracing the word old. I have been waging my one person effort to reclaim its positive meaning. I can’t embrace “crone” however, despite my feminist past.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I am with you. I use it often. I use the number to convince people!

      1. Elizabeth says:

        My grandchildren use it freely and with some degree of awe. So I am trying to emulate them.

    2. Barbie says:

      Agreed. Although the word crone is meant to steep us in wisdom acquired, it’s association seems to be more linked to the stereotypical picture of a haggard woman. There’s no equivalent for our males, or is there?

      1. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Our dance group is doing a show about crones next year. Hot topic!

  2. V.J. Knutson says:

    l like your attitude.

  3. Two lucky numbers 7…..8… so don’t feel you are old!!! Xxxxhugxxxx Myra

  4. Same age as my father. It’s had to think of him as “old” or “elderly”, though.

  5. toutparmoi says:

    I’m with Elizabeth on this. I like the word “old” too.

    In the words of John Webster: “Is not old wine wholesomest, old pippins toothsomest, old wood burns brightest, old linen washes whitest? Old soldiers, sweetheart, are surest, and old lovers are soundest.”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Hear hear! What an astute quote.

  6. Bravo, beautifully said. This year I like 72.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s a beautiful number.

  7. Sadje says:

    Great post. Yes people don’t like old. But I don’t mind. My theory is that one can only get old if you are alive. So what is a better option! Love the picture.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I’m specially glad you like the photo!

      1. Sadje says:


  8. lifecameos says:

    I have come across definitions of old as “over fifty”. That would make half our life spans designated as “old”. That is counterproductive as far as I am concerned.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, things have changed from fifty years ago!

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The world has changed and the words are trying to catch up.

  9. Love the poem. As for old, well I am getting older at 65, that can’t be denied but I am blessed to still have my father alive and very well at nearly 95, so I have the bonus of a very positive example of ageing and it’s hard to feel properly ‘old’ when I am still someone’s child…..especially when he tells me to cross the road carefully!!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      How privileged you are! And I notice you use the words “old” and “older” with ease.

  10. rummuser says:

    Mine is seventy five and I am having a ball.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s a very fine number.

  11. hilarymb says:

    Hi Rachel … love Toutparmoi’s quote by John Webster … very clever of him indeed … I’ll go with Seven zero for another two months … then might need to add one … if I’m still with it by then?! I will be – and I enjoyed being introduced to John Webster – cheers and let each of us enjoy our days … Hilary

  12. iidorun says:

    I want to join the old club! I envy the wisdom that comes with the grand age and long to let go of the comparative nature of youth.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The only thing required is patience:)

  13. Donna says:

    I never use the word old. 79!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So there’s truth in my poem…

  14. cedar51 says:

    when you think of these young things, wearing either full-on retro or newly made retro – old doesn’t seem like anything at all. Of course, most wouldn’t even realise you were wearing it as a fashion item in the 40-60s when you might actually have been their current age!

    i know I’m not old, if I was to buy a licence to live in one of the “all the rage” retirement villages – you now have to be 70-75 to even start applying…which links back to the comment from: lifecameos

    I’m entitled to one of those NZ/gold cards and have of course a dedicated AT Hop transport gold card (that’s for Auckland region) but I’m not in my 70s just yet…

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The border to “old” has shifted.

  15. is that a real photo? It’s pretty cool. A sweet, (very) elderly woman told me one time that it’s okay to be old. It means you didn’t die a young woman. I’ve remembered that ever since with each birthday that passes.

    I like the poem.;-)

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, the photo is real and untouched — I’m constantly surprised by reflections on reflections in my windows, especially early morning. I go out to do tai chi and get distracted when the sun hits a certain angle. A bit like my mind and maybe yours. You make me feel better about something: yesterday at a poetry reading my friend (same age as me, 78) said to two young poets, “One day you will be an old poet like me, but don’t worry, it’s a long way off.” I said, “Actually it’s good being old. We like it.” Great to hear from you. Priscilla.

  16. Joared says:

    Old’s meaning seems to change with our age — often aspired to, then disparaged.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      So irrational, isn’t it?

%d bloggers like this: