Poem on ageing - See me?

The origin of this poem is uncertain. General consensus is that when an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a hospital, it appeared she had left nothing of value but on packing up her possessions, a nurse found this poem.

Whatever the true story behind this poem it is certainly thought provoking. Dignity Champions may wish to use this poem in some way to raise awareness of dignity, in intergenerational work or as inspiration to write something themselves.


What do you see Carers, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you look at me?
A crabbit old woman, not very wise
Uncertain of habit, with far away eyes.
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice "I do wish you would try"

Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe
Who, unresisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding the long day to fill
Is that what you're thinking, is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, you are not looking at ME.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still
As I move at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters who love one another.
A young girl at sixteen with wings on her feet
dreaming of soon now a lover she'll meet.

A bride soon at twenty - my heart gives a leap
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now I have young of my own
who need me to build a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty my young grow fast
bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty, my young now soon will be gone but my man stays beside
me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee
again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all busy rearing young of their own
and I think of the years and the love I have known.

I'm an old woman now and nature is cruel, 'tis her jest to make old
age look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigour depart
and now there's a stone where I once had a heart.
But, inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain, and I'm loving and living
life over again.

I think of the years all too few - gone so fast
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, Carers, open and see
not a crabbit old woman, look closer - see ME.

Phyllis McCormack

Discuss this poem on the Age Concern discussion board (opens new window)