THE VIEW FROM 80 by Malcolm Cowley


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In these brief reflections on old age--which first appeared in Life and later, abbreviated, in the Reader's Digest--Cowley touches all the inspirational bases (including ""octo's"" and ""nono's"" from O. W. Holmes to Picasso); but he also provides some acute-to-amusing recognitions. Octogenarians, Cowley asserts, often feel as well and active as ever when sitting in a comfortable chair thinking pleasant thoughts; getting up and striding forth, however, is another matter. As Bruce Bliven, whom Cowley admired and quotes delightfully, put it: ""I don't feel like an old man. I feel like a young man who has something the matter with him."" Cowley recognizes age's disabilities with a now-you-know-you're-old list, and puts in evidence (among others) the distracted woman who finally found her glasses--in the freezer. He takes up the vices of old age--the tendency to hoard, untidyness, and ""vanity"" (the desire for recognition based on earlier accomplishments). He discusses life expectancies and social and financial hardships; and he traces the wavering status of the old through American history. But the most effective sections deal with Cowley's personal experiences and those of his friends--as in a wry, affectionate portrait of his Harvard class (1919) at a successful latter-day reunion: the drinking was light, the ""good-time Charlies"" had vanished, ""everyone went to bed early."" Cowley does not urge his peers to get out and bird-watch or buy a boat; but he is in favor of a ""work project."" One might be ""trying to find a shape or pattern in our lives. Gradually our world takes shape and possessing our own identities we can say, 'I really was,' or 'I was and am this!'"" Altogether, much that's familiar but also some wise saws and bright modern instances.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1980
Publisher: Viking