A Minuet on Reaching the Age of Fifty

by George Santayana (1922)


Old Age, on tiptoe, lays her jewelled hand
Lightly in mine.—Come, tread a stately measure,
Most gracious partner, nobly poised and bland.
      Ours be no boisterous pleasure,
But smiling conversation, with quick glance
And memories dancing lightlier than we dance,
      Friends who a thousand joys
Divide and double, save one joy supreme
      Which many a pang alloys.
      Let wanton girls and boys
Cry over lovers' woes and broken toys.
Our waking life is sweeter than their dream.


Dame Nature, with unwitting hand,
Has sparsely strewn the black abyss with lights
Minute, remote, and numberless. We stand
      Measuring far depths and heights,
      Arched over by a laughing heaven,
Intangible and never to be scaled.
If we confess our sins, they are forgiven.
      We triumph, if we know we failed.


      Tears that in youth you shed,
Congealed to pearls, now deck your silvery hair;
      Sighs breathed for loves long dead
Frosted the glittering atoms of the air
      Into the veils you wear
Round your soft bosom and most queenly head;
      The shimmer of your gown
Catches all tints of autumn, and the dew
Of gardens where the damask roses blew;
The myriad tapers from these arches hung
      Play on your diamonded crown;
And stars, whose light angelical caressed
      Your virgin days,
Give back in your calm eyes their holier rays.
      The deep past living in your breast
      Heaves these half-merry sighs;
      And the soft accents of your tongue
      Breathe unrecorded charities.

      Hasten not; the feast will wait.
This is a master-night without a morrow.
No chill and haggard dawn, with after-sorrow,
      Will snuff the spluttering candle out,
Or blanch the revellers homeward straggling late.
      Before the rout
Wearies or wanes, will come a calmer trance.
Lulled by the poppied fragrance of this bower,
      We'll cheat the lapsing hour,
And close our eyes, still smiling, on the dance.

December 1913.

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