Book Review: The Old Familiar Faces (Edited by Sybil Oldfield and Gwenyth Shaw)

I have had playmates, I have had companions…
All are gone, the old familiar faces…” – Charles Lamb

This collection of mainly English poetry reflecting inevitably on loss, the constant of old age, has many poignant poems, but also humour, a necessity of aging well, is here. The editors have collected poems from many centuries and from the famous to the little known. They go well together; fame is not essential for enjoyment or inspiration, the experience of aging is universal.

As Frances Comford wrote “O passer-by, my heart was like your own”, it is hard to choose favourites in such a wide-ranging collection; here are a few that I like as I dip into this treasure from time to time.

The humour of the possibility of mature love is mocked by the young in a short poem by Anna Swir, Her Greatest Love (translated from the Polish): At sixty she’s experiencing/ the greatest love of her life. / She walks arm in arm with her lover,/ the wind ruffles their grey hairs./ Her lover says:/ -You have hair like pearls./ Her children say:/ -You silly old fool

Sybil Oldfield

Sybil Oldfield. Photo by Theresa Wolfwood.

Handbag by Ruth Fainlight, about her mother’s handbag, evoked strong memories of my mother’s handbag, her perfume was different but the sensation is the same: …Letters from my father. Odour/ Of leather and powder, whichever/ Since then has meant womanliness,/ And love, and anguish, and war.

Perhaps in old age we learn to be more realistic about our place in the world as Mary Cowan, who accomplished much in her life, ends her “Sonnet, Consolation” with these words: …With courage once we strove the world to free,/ Now we’ll be glad to help one bumblebee.

I could write about many more quotes, but I recommend this collection to all thoughtful readers and I am pleased to see it is still available on the internet.

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Theresa Wolfwood

Theresa Wolfwood is a writer and activist in Victoria, BC, Canada. Her poetry collection: Love and Resistance was published by Smallberry Press, UK. She serves as the director of the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation (BBCF), Canada.

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