For anyone who is unaware, Sir Andrew Motion is a former poet laureate and current president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, although he will soon be leaving this role to become a lecturer at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Why is this of any interest? Because when explaining his decision to venture onwards into the life of a lecturer at 62-years-old, Sir Andrew said something brilliant:
“I fancy having an adventure. Old men should be explorers.”
What a fantastic outlook to have!
Despite knowing of Sir Andrew’s work, I never took the opportunity to read it in more depth until lately. This is by no means the first time that the idea of ‘old age’ has been discussed by the poet – in fact, it is a common motif within a lot of his later work.
One of the best examples of this is his poem ‘Better Life’ as the message behind it is one I, and I’m sure many of you, share: the sometimes sad truth of growing older.
Motion depicts society’s failure in appreciating the impact older people can have, the memories they yearn to share, and the experiences they continue to want to enjoy. As is often the case in his poems, he speaks through multiple characters, who each impart their slightly harrowing experiences of old age:
“Now I am waiting for my telephone to ring. It never does ring.”
“What can I do for you? The chances are I know more than you about most things.”
“I am every single colour in the rainbow but you see no colour. You see the colour grey.”
The message is a sad one because there is an undeniable truth behind it, as it often seems that older people are pushed to the outskirts of society. But as Motion has shown by embarking on his latest adventure, and the message that ‘Better Life’ suggests, this does not mean that older people want to be separated from the rest of society.
“As for me I have not done. I am still the child that loves to arrive by night in a new place.”
The older generation want adventure, they want to talk, to do, to live, to enjoy and to be ‘explorers’. But this doesn’t have to mean traversing the world – it can simply mean to explore new things.
Despite the sadness that underlies ‘Better Life’, Sir Andrew’s own approach to life is inspirational and shows us that the best way to change how society is, is to not care what society thinks and to adventure and explore anyway.
To end, here are Sir Andrew’s own words on the brilliant poem that I urge you all to read, and I wish him the best of luck in his latest exploration, and all future ones for that matter!
“The idea was to create a portrait of age which is at once fragmentary, because everyone’s experience is unique to themselves, and unified, because ageing involves sharing certain things in common.
“I hope the result is realistic about the difficulties posed by time and the passing of time, and yet also celebratory of certain experiences that time allows – the richness of memory, the sense of a narrative shape within a life.” – Sir Andrew Motion on ‘Better Life’.
Enjoy all 13 stanzas of Sir Andrew’s work here – http://betterlife.jrf.org.uk/poem.pdf