Martin Robertson

Now and Then

Climacteric by the Sea


A child cartwheels by me on the sand

where my steps now are staid and heavy.

Not that I was ever

a competent cartwheeler

or steady in a handstand

—ran like another though

barefoot along the bare

ripple-ridged beach

through the frothing water-edges

that came and went, that come and go.

Do I make too much of not liking to be old?

After all, I didn’t like being young too much

(not after I was younger

than this cartwheeling child)

yet never lacked, do not lack, delight,

would be wholly sorry to have missed life

on this multifarious earth.

Accepting life entails acceptance

of death to balance birth,

of depressing age as well as youth’s depressions.


Sorrow I have known,


fear, anxiety

and worse corrosions of the soul,

but never hunger and cold

—not real cold, let alone

real hunger—not want

and the consequent

stress and distress,

miseries, misery.

This being so

have I the right,

or power, to be a poet?

I don’t know,

but I can’t help it.

Seagulls cry

circling, swooping over

the white, noisy water.

The call comes from them



I stand on the balcony.

Children run and shout

on the beach, splash and shout

in the sea.  Grown-ups lounge out

from the pub to drink on the wall

or sit on the beach or walk,

young and middle-aged

and, a class of their own, in pairs

or singly, greeting each other

with a kind of masonry,

subtly apart, the old.

I know I am not a child.

(Up to a point I know

—have I ever really, though,

quite grown up?  But that’s

another question.) The thing

that strikes me oddly now

is that I have to make

a conscious effort to take

the fact that, looking down

on me from this balcony,

a watcher would see me

simply one of the old.