Fanthorpe’s “Old Man, Old Man” and Joseph’s “Warning” are both poems about old age; one is a third person observation of a saddening and deteriorating picture of her father, whilst the other is a first person projection of how the poet looks forward to exploiting the eccentricities of old age. Both poets paint very vivid pictures of the later years. Fanthorpe starts this process by painting her father as a pale shadow of the do-it yourself specialist that he used to be; a man who “did it himself”.
Now his hands “shamble” and his eyesight fails; she remembers “when he saw better”. To accentuate his pitiful state she produces a list using extensive hyperbole to demonstrate how capable he used to be. “Lord once of shed, garage and garden”…”world authority on twelve different sorts of glue” “connoisseur of nuts and bolts”. The list and the hyperbole begins to build the rhetoric which is then cruelly cut by the line “self-demoted in your nineties to washing up”, which compounds the cruel process of growing old. The reader is projected from the vision of a man with an independent past to one with a rather pathetic present.
In comparison Joseph looks positively into the future where she can use old age as an excuse to behave quite outrageously on the pretext that people will blame her eccentric behaviour on senility. In a similar way she lists all the schemes she plans to execute like; mismatching clothes ” I shall wear purple with a red hat”, or “sit down on the pavement when I’m tired”. She intends to “press alarm bells/And run my stick along the public railings”. The ever-growing list leaves the reader with no doubt that she intends to exploit and enjoy old age to the full. The second stanza is written almost as an invitation to the reader about how exciting and liberating old age is. “You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat/And eat three pounds of sausages at a go”.
It is clear that each poet’s opinion of old age differs greatly. In the two poems the voice is clearly from different perspectives one is in the first-person providing her beliefs whilst the other is in the third person showing an outlook. For Fanthorpe who observes a deterioration of her father, it becomes a torturous process to watch “have you forgotten the jokes you no longer tell” or “no television has no power to arouse your surliness”.
Old age appears to have made her father stubborn and singular now that he is close to death. “So obdurate in your contracted world living in almost dark”. However it is not all pessimistic as she sees his vulnerability as a way to become closer to the man who was not “good with daughters”, a phrase that stood at odds in the list that glorified the man she remembered when she was growing up.
Now that he is frail and helpless – no longer the authority figure – he does not view her as a threat or challenge to his status as the head of the family because she has shown us that the position no longer exists. In a rather abstract way he sees her in their present relationship “only as a cloud”. This only serves to evoke more love from the daughter who now feels closer to her father in his “helpless” than she has at any point in her life. We can say that although in many aspects “Old man, old man” is a sad poem, the ending depicts a sense of closeness that his present condition has warped.
In stark contrast to this Jenny Joseph appears to positively resent restrictions and responsibilities that her present middle age brings. Her tone moans “we must have clothes that keep us dry”, we’re not allowed “swear”, adults are expected to “set a good example for the children”, and we are supposed to have “friends” over for dinner. However in her final stanza her tone changes and hints cheekily as she warns that she might start to “practice a little now” on the pretext that she won’t shock or surprise people too much when she becomes old and eccentric, however we suspect that she just wants to have some enjoyment now.
Although the meaning of each poem is clearly understood both are sophisticated in their use of layout. Fanthorpe uses a series of three-line stanza with enjambment, connecting and continuing each stanza with her personal observation of deterioration and helplessness. Joseph’s use of enjambment and the repetition of the word “and” serves both to convince the reader of her intentions for old age are mimicking the rambles of an old woman.
Childlike features which seems to mirror childhood e.g. she says ” a red hat that doesn’t go,” whereas an adult would tend to use the word co-ordinate. Another example is “you can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,” whereas an adult would probably say put on weight instead. This view that old age is like a second childhood is also evident in Fanthorpe’s “Old Man, Old Man,” with the key difference being Joseph’s emphasis is on the fun aspects whereas, Fanthorpe’s focus on “helpless” dependency. In my opinion after reading the two poems I found that I quite liked “Old Man, Old Man,” but after contrasting and analysing the two poems I found myself enjoying the humour more in “Warning”.