On Aging

On Aging

By Maya Angelou

When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are stiff and aching,

And my feet won’t climb the stair,

I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Summary of On Aging

  • Popularity of “On Aging”: The poem “On Aging” by Maya Angelou, an American iconic poet and African American start, is a very interesting and fresh poem about the old age and its demands. The poem appeared first in 1855 in his book, Men and Women along with several other. The popularity of the poem, however, lies in a unique perspective about the old age when the poet thinks that nobody should think that an old person needs assistance.
  • “On Aging” As a Representative of Old Age Perspective: The poem presents a speaker who is old and is sitting silently. However, he blurts out that he should not be considered a lonely person who needs the company of a chatterbox to pass his time. Actually, he is listening to his own heart and do not want pity or sympathy of anybody else to pass his time. The speaker condescendingly asks that he does not need anything even if he is aching in bones and feeling stiff. The reason is that he does not need sympathetic treatment. Using a litotes in the second stanza, the speaker states that he is not lazy if he walks awkwardly and stumbles upon. The main reason is his old age. Finally, the old man says with optimism that it is not fortunate for him that despite having old age defects, he can still breathe with defective lungs.
  • Major Themes in “On Aging”: Old age, its issues and public pity toward the old age are the major thematic strands of this poem. The poem opens with the speaker saying that he does not need somebody to talk to you to pass his time. He is rather ruminating over his old age. He, again, stresses upon the point that he is facing old age issues in moving and stumbling yet he does not demand a rocking chair to enjoy. He rather wants the people not to feel pity or sympathy for him. They should rather see that despite having issues the old man can still live and enjoy life.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “On Aging”

literary devices are literary tools essential for poetic or prose writing to make the text beautiful and worth reading. The analysis of these devices in the poem as given below shows this fact.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “When you see me sitting quietly”, /o/ in “Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!” and the sound of /a/ in “I would only ask on favor.”
  2. Alliteration: It is the use of successive consonant sounds in the initials of the successive words such as /l/ in “little less”, “lot less” and” and again “little less.”
  3. Anaphora: The poem shows the use of anaphora as the repetition of “Thus I…” in the first verse of the last stanza as “A lot less…” and “A little less…”
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /s/ in “When you see me sitting quietly”, /s/ and /l/ in “When you seem walking, stumbling,” and the sound of /n/ and /t/ in “Don’t study and get it wrong.”
  5. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. The poem shows the use of imagery such as “When my bones are stiff and aching”, “Don’t bring me no rocking chair” and “A little less hair, a little less chin.”
  6. Juxtaposition: The poem shows the juxtaposition of opposite ideas in the last two lines which shows less lungs and less wind. It means that his lungs are weak and take less air, yet he can breathe.
  7. Litotes: A litotes means to use double negatives to show positive or affirmative meanings such as “Don’t bring me no rocking chair” has a double negative.
  8. Personification: The poet has shown the use of feet as if they have life and emotions of their own.
  9. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows the use of the symbols of rocking chair, hair, chin and wind to show the arrival of old age.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “On Aging”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Rhyme Scheme: The poem does not follow any fixed rhyme scheme though in some places it seems that there are heroic couplets or ABAB rhyme schemes such as in the few ending lines.
  2. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. The poem seems a single stanza having twenty verses.

Quotes to be Used

These lines from “On Aging” are relevant to use when teaching about old age or delivering a speech to people about old age to enjoy it.

A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.