Sample Syllabus – Brief Seminar on Old Age and Literature

Literature and Old Age – Senior Seminar
March 25 – Introduction – Why use literature to look at old age?

Learning in old age –

Larkin: “The Winter Palace”
Montaigne: “All Things in Their Season”
Excerpts from Emerson’s journals
Bishop: “One Art”

Does someone have to be old to talk credibly about old age? And what is “old”?

Swift: “When I Come to be Old”

Can we separate feelings about old age from feelings about death?

Williams: “He Gets Around to Answering the Old Questions”

Has the way that old age has been viewed changed over the centuries?

Shakespeare’s Lear vs. Tate’s Lear
The Rule of Saint Benedict (Intro)

April 1 – Losses and Lamentations

In honor of April Fool’s Day, we look at some “foolish” poetry about old age!

Lewis Carroll: “Advice from a Caterpillar”
Jonathan Swift: “Satiric Elegy” “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift”
Beatles: “When I’m 64”
Carlin: “Reverse Living”

Old age and love – and the old body (“Old age is a shipwreck”)

Hardy: “When I Look Into the Glass”
Cicero: “On Old Age”

Does the heart stay young or not? Does it stop hurting?

“Moonlight” – Teasdale
“Pity Me Not” – Millay
“Her Vision in the Wood” – Yeats
“All Over” – de Maupassant

April 15 – Lamentations and Consolations

In honor of income tax day, we will look at old age and money!

Robert Frost: “Provide, Provide”
A. E. Houseman: “When First My Way”
Chekhov: “Rothschild’s Fiddle”

We will consider other consolations of age (religion, children, art?).

Yeats: “Sailing to Byzantium”
Tennyson: “Crossing the Bar”

Psalm 90

April 22 – Cures and Celebrations

Is there wisdom in old age? “When an old man dies, a library burns down.”

Selections from Ecclesiastes
Selections from Eliot’s “The Four Quartets”
Stevenson: “Crabbed Age and Youth”

Do we become more ourselves as we get older?

Stevens: “Lebensweisheitspielerie”
Irving: Selection from “Rip Van Winkle”

April 29 – Celebrations and Conclusions

Acceptance or “Do Not Go Gentle”?

Thomas: “Do Not Go Gentle”
Joseph: “Warning”
Eliot: “Á Song for Simeon” (see also Luke 2:29)
Tennyson: “Ulysses”

Is there a way to stop old age? And would we want to?

Thoreau: Walden “The Artist of Kouroo”
Tennyson: “Tithonus”
Swift: “The Struldbruggs” (from Part III of Gulliver’s Travels)
Ovid: “The Cumaean Sibyl”