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by Ogden Nash
People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when…
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.
This is a six line poem by Ogden Nash that strays from his typical humorous tone. Instead this work leaves the Reader introspective and self-questioning. Is this really how society treats its old men? Is this how I think of and treat the elderly?
Thematically this poem is about aging, empathy, and how society (“people” in the poem) views this issue. Old Men is a one stanza poem without a consistent meter, a rhyme scheme of ABCBDD (though you could argue the two D rhymes are half-rhymes of A.)
The last line of this poem really hits its intended emotional note by switching the poem’s perspective. The first five lines show us the Speaker’s beliefs regarding how others view old men. The last line gives us the perspective of old men themselves. The first five lines might paint a picture of a society that no longer views its old as real people, with value, and worthy of empathy. The “old men” do not have that problem with respect to one another and the fact that they do not, understandably so, is a condemnation of “people.”