What insights can we gain from literature about our own responses and the responses of our society and others to aging? This course looks at the treatment of aging and “old age” as a stage of life through the work of several representative writers for whom aging is a major theme: William Wordsworth (childhood and old age; abandonment); William Carlos Williams (doctor as observer and subject of aging); May Sarton (solitude versus loneliness in aging); and several contemporary poets (Gail Masur, Rhina P. Espaillat, and Gerald Stern on outliving others in “extreme” old age). Wordsworth famously shaped our thinking about aging through such phrases as “the child is father of the man” and “years that bring the philosophic mind”; Williams provides the insights of a medical doctor as writer viewing not only aged patients, but his parents and grandparents, and finally, himself, as the subject of aging; Sarton focused on aging and questioning the value of life throughout her career as a novelist, memoirist, and poet to both interesting and startling results; and contemporary poets writing well into their eighties provide insight into aging in a time when the expectation of longevity creates new dimensions of “aging” — including outliving one’s contemporaries and the world one was born into. Not to neglect some memorable and well-worn short pieces on aging, we will also read single poems by Emerson, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Dylan Thomas, among others as they comment on these themes and provide counter-themes of their own.
Students should obtain a copy of May Sarton’s novel As We are Now (1973) in any edition available; other poems and materials will be made available through online links or PDF copies per fair use for education guidelines.
The syllabus (class by class reading and topic outline) will be available August 2021; for more detail, contact by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Instructor Stephen Hahn retired as professor of English, emeritus, from William Paterson University in New Jersey in 2019. He and his wife Chrys moved to Falmouth, Maine (happily before the pandemic) in the summer of the same year. They have taken courses at CSC and OLLI at USM. Stephen grew up in the Lower Merrimac Valley (MA), attended several schools in his late teens and early twenties, and eventually received a transfer scholarship to Amherst College, where he graduated in 1975. Stephen went to graduate school in English at Rutgers in New Brunswick, New Jersey, studied and taught there until 1984 when he was hired at William Paterson (then College), outside Paterson, New Jersey. The literature of aging is one of his current scholarly interests and a focus of reading for pleasure, along with what he calls “Mill Stories” and the writings of Thoreau and William Carlos Williams. He is also interested in stories and histories of the early years of European settlement and contact and conflict among settlers and with Indigenous people along the frontier from the Mid-Atlantic to Canadian Maritimes. He serves on the editorial advisory board of the William Carlos Williams Review and the executive council of the William Carlos Williams Society.
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