Moving in Age

“The Old Man Travelling” embraces the themes of romantic poetry by emphasizing the idea of re-envisioning the concept of age and growing old and the sublime of this. This is similar to the way that the romantic movement focuses on the individual experience and compares it to nature and emphasizes the melancholy of the time. The enjambment of, “A man who does not move with pain but moves | With thought. He is insensibly subdued” (157), highlights the old man’s separation from his body. Because the enjambment separates “moves” and “with thought”, this causes a dive into the meaning of “movement”. He is able to move “with thought” as compared to “pain”, which could represent any kind of physical aging as a concept of pain. Instead, his ability to move “with thought” tells the reader of this idea of mind over body and the old man was able to achieve this. The movement that the man experiences in his life is primarily the movement of his mind. This re-envisions the typical image of old men, who are usually burdened by constant pain. Instead, this old man moves completely separate from it. The line, “He is insensibly subdued” following after “with thought” emphasizes that his movement in thought also does not carry any mental pain or burdens. He is one with his mind and his journey “travelling”. This brings me to my second point: even the title of the poem tells to the themes of it. The concept of an old man travelling is already seen as something out of the ordinary because old men would be seen as fragile and weak– in other words, incapable of “travelling” very far physically. Throughout the poem, the readers are pointed to the potential that maybe the old man is travelling through his experience. Maybe the way that the old man experiences his day-to-day life is in similar manner to the way a person travelling experiences the journey. The line, “To peace so perfect that the young behold | With envy what the old man hardly feels” (L 14-15), suggests that the old man is at a place in his mind– after a lifetime of age– where he travels through what is left of his life at peace. He does this in a way that feels enjoyable (or at least with content), similar to the joy of a journey as you travel.

3 thoughts on “Moving in Age”

  1. I enjoyed reading your commentary on age here, and I noticed that Wordsworth includes the theme of age across multiple poems. In Wordsworth’s Lyrics, there is a motif of harmony between the young, the old, and memory. In “Two April Mornings” and “The Fountain,” readers are introduced to the older friend of the speaker Matthew, who is at peace with his age, even after experiencing loss in his life. Matthew’s attitude towards being at the latter end of his life reminds me of Wordsworth’s description of the old man walking, as well as your analysis of it. Like the old man walking, Matthew has overcome his worldly pains.

  2. I really appreciate how you phrased your central takeaway from this poem as “mind over body”—this is a simplified and helpful way to think about this romantic quality. I have already responded to two other Wordsworth poems (one being my own longer response, one being a comment) and this “mind over body” idea is a common pattern. In both “Lines Written in Early Spring” and “Elegiac Stanzas,” most movement described is of the mind and imagination, and it is reflection of the speaker that drives the poem forward, or creates any sort of “journey.” I wonder as well, because of this common pattern regardless of if the poem focuses on age, if this “mind over body” way of thinking extends to people’s general philosophies throughout this period (or at least Wordsworth’s). The idea of not having to worry about physical matters and being able to fully experience your mind’s individual journey seems to be valued in “Old Man Traveling,” so I believed that way of thinking or at least of writing extends to much of his work that we’ve read.

  3. I also looked at this poem and did not pick up on your reading that he is moving through his mind at all and I think it is such a good one! I wonder what this says about the traveler we were talking about in class today. Your reading offers another lens, memory, to look at the world through and I think following that line, and the role of memory in the romantics meaning making would be super interesting.

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