Today is my birthday and because of this, I thought that I would post a birthday poem. As much as I do not love getting a year older, I feel just as much now as I did when I was eleven that the celebration of a birthday is a celebration of life, or rather, of being happy to be alive.
I’ve always been of the opinion that you’re only old if you stop celebrating your birthday. So, here’s to growing old and fat. Here’s to getting slow and cranky and tired. Here’s to becoming an obstacle to the younger, faster and prettier generation (the little bastards) – someday they’ll become the old people that they make fun of. Here’s to exuberant summer days, and snowy, beautiful winter nights. Here’s to the perfume smell of pollen and the wind rolling the waves white. Here’s to feeling love and loss. Here’s to the smell of mold and warm baked bread. Here’s to mountain vistas swathed in mist and winter oceans turned green from a storm. Here’s to the excitement and the fear of life – the light and the dark, the pleasure and the pain, the fun and the burden. Life isn’t easy and to quote William Goldman (you remember him? he wrote the Princess Bride), “life isn’t fair, but it’s fairer than death.” Good enough for me.
Today’s poem is one of many of Jonathan Swift’s many birthday poems to his friend Stella. Many of them are more complimentary than this. I’m not certain that I would enjoy being called old and fat on my birthday. But it seems to be done in good fun and he does let her know that she’s as beautiful to him as when he met her at 16. Perhaps Stella herself instigated the less than complimentary phrasing by being self-deprecating. “Made up largely in thy mind” sounds as if Stella is being a bit hard on herself and thinking herself as very “large”. Perhaps she is worried, or she is laughing at herself. Perhaps it’s best to just have a sense of humor about growing older. After all, what else can you do about it? And wouldn’t you rather be alive?
On Stella’s Birthday
by Jonathan Swift
Stella this day is thirty-four
(We shan’t dispute a year or more) –
However, Stella, be not troubled,
Although thy size and years are doubled,
Since first I saw thee at sixteen,
The brightest virgin on the green,
So little is thy form declined,
Made up so largely in thy mind.
Oh, would it please the gods, to split
Thy beauty, size, and years, and wit,
No age could furnish out a pair
Of nymphs so graceful, wise, and fair,
With half the luster of your eyes,
With half your wit, your years, and size.
And then, before it grew too late,
How should I beg of gentle Fate
(That either nymph might have her swain)
To split my worship too in twain.