Old Man’s Town – A Road We All Must Tread
This poem by Paterson uses the metaphor of a journey to reflect on the progression of life from youth to old age. Through vivid imagery and melancholic tone, he contemplates the joy and freedom of youth fading into the difficulties of later years.
The opening stanza evokes an idyllic, romantic vision of youth, describing it as filled with “flowers” and “strong wine.” Paterson conveys a sense of boundless possibility and time through phrases like “what need to count the hours?” and “summer days are long.”
However, the second stanza marks a transition, as the speaker realizes they are “drifting down” from the heights of youth to the “barren slopes” and “foothills grim and grey” of old age. Paterson imagines aging as a descent into more trying times ahead.
He reflects on traveling the road of life alongside friends, yet seeing many “drop behind” along the way. The pain of loss and loneliness in one’s later years is an ominous threat.
The final stanza is a plea to not undergo the journey to “Old Man’s Town” alone. Paterson ends on a somber note, emphasizing the difficult “road we all must tread” as our vitality and companionship diminish.
While a melancholy meditation on impermanence, the poem also highlights the radiance and spirit of youth. Paterson’s emotive language and metaphor of life as a path remind us to cherish each phase of life. The poem carries a message to embrace the present before time relentlessly marches on.
The Road to Old Man’s Town
The fields of youth are filled with flowers,
The wine of youth is strong:
What need have we to count the hours?
The summer days are long.
But soon we find to our dismay
That we are drifting down
The barren slopes that fall away
Towards the foothills grim and grey
That lead to Old Man’s Town.
And marching with us on the track
Full many friends we find:
We see them looking sadly back
For those that dropped behind.
But God forbid a fate so dread—
Alone to travel down
The dreary road we all must tread,
With faltering steps and whitening head,
The road to Old Man’s Town!