A few days ago, I retired from work – my final occupation, my last job. I had orchestrated my exit, set everything in order and handed responsibility over – it all felt quite satisfying. I received a few cards and good wishes to wish me happy retirement. I felt quite free and unencumbered. On the other hand I’ve been working for years, and now that I’ve stopped I don’t intend to just sit around and do nothing – there are still so many things to do, learn and experience. I’m never going to a stop working on things I love to do. For example I shall continue to write fiction and to read poetry.
My son gave me a framed hand-written copy of the famous much loved poem by Jenny Joseph called Warning, the one that begins: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple”
This poem is not in fact about retirement but about the intention to retire upon growing old, when we can throw off social responsibility and do what we like. It is a fantasy of what we can do in our old age – and it depicts someone growing old ungracefully.
I love this poem and yet my husband and I have a mantra, which we say aloud occasionally to each other: “Grow Old Gracefully” – which we sometimes shortened to GOG, which reminds us not to whinge about aches or pains, and just accept that when you age, various parts of your body are not going to work quite as well as they did when you were young.
There are other poems in which the poet beautifully expresses the peace and the freedom that comes with retirement. The first one that comes to mind is W. B. Yeats’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree:
“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings …”
Another is poem on Retirement by Anne Bronte, when the poet just seeks to withdraw temporarily from the company of other people, just to be alone with her own thoughts, putting aside the cares of the world.
“O, let me be alone a while,
No human form is nigh.
And may I sing and muse aloud,
No mortal ear is by.
Away! ye dreams of earthly bliss,
Ye earthly cares begone:
Depart! ye restless wandering thoughts,
And let me be alone!”
There are many poems that describe a similar yearning, and I’m reminded of a favourite stanza from Andrew Marvell’s wonderful poem The Garden:
“Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.”
These days life for most of us is full of so many activities, responsibilities, duties, worries and stress, that we just sometimes want to stop the hectic merry-go-round and get off for a few minutes or hours, and chill out, forget and relax. William Wordsworth put it best in a famous Sonnet when he said:
“Peace in these feverish times is sovereign bliss.”
One of the cards I received said: “You’re free as a bird! You’ve earned your wings.” I thought this sounded delightful but a little premature, giving rise as it does to a vision of a recent retiree seated on a cloud with wings and a harp. I live in hope that heaven will ultimately be my home, perhaps not quite yet.