Donald Justice, Men at Forty

I don’t read to see myself reflected on the page. I read primarily to learn how someone else thinks and to analyze and appreciate the formal characteristics of a carefully constructed work. But if I were going to cite a poem that simply speaks to me and my condition, it would be this one, from Poetry magazine, 1966.

I’ve written more detailed notes on two other poems about mortality written by middle-aged men: Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” and Philip Larkin’s “Aubade.” They strike me as more complicated and richer than this work–although it’s worth noting the pattern created by the four-line stanzas, each of which introduces a central verb and a new setting:

1. Closing doors in rooms
2. Feeling motion on staircases
3. Rediscovering a face in a mirror
4. Aging (implied)
5. Sounds filling space

But what I admire is how Justice discovers wonder in the most terrifying intimations of middle age.

(See also Donald Justice, “About My Poems.”)

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.