I recently received this poem in an e-mail sent by a relative in Dallas. Whether true or false, it is a moving tribute to old age and a scathing criticism of how the elderly are perceived by many of us. I am posting it on my blog with the hope that its message reaches many others—and if it changes even one person’s attitude towards the elderly, the effort has been worthwhile.
This is the e-mail and the poem I received, but the poem has undergone many changes since landing in my mailbox. In its wandering around the internet it had collected many faults—missing and misplaced punctuation marks, misspelled words, lines out of sequence and many other problems that restricted a thorough understanding of the work. I feel that my modest efforts improved the message that the poem is intended to convey.
This is the story of the crabby old man, as told in the e-mail:
When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in North Platte, Nebraska, it was believed that he had left nothing of any value. After his death the nurses were going through his meager possessions and found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
One nurse took her copy to Missouri. The old man’s poem, his sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple but eloquent poem.
This “crabby old man,” with nothing else to give others on his departure from this world, has given the world he leaves his richness of thought—he is the author of this anonymous poem, now winging its way across the internet and into the homes and hearts of thousands, perhaps millions.
Crabby Old Man
What do you see, nurses? What do you see?
What are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old man, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit with far away eyes?
Who dribbles his food and makes no reply,
When you say in a loud voice, ‘I do wish you’d try!’
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a sock or a shoe.
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding and the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten, with a father and mother,
And brothers and sisters who love one another.
A young boy of sixteen with wings on his feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover he’ll meet.
A groom soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own,
Who need me to guide them, and a secure happy home.
A man of thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my woman’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more babies play ’round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my wife now is dead.
I look at the future and shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years, and the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old man, and nature is cruel,
‘Tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young man still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast,
And I accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people, open and see,
Not a crabby old man, look closer, see me!
Remember this poem when you next meet an older person, one that you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within.
We will all one day be there also!
The best and most beautiful things of this world can neither be seen nor touched.
They must be felt by the heart . . .
To determine whether the poem is truth or fiction, click on this Crabby old man.