Sages on the hills of prayer,
the youth of the world sit at your feet
with wide eyes of astonishment,
because you gesticulate and ramble,
tell half-stories and misremembered events,
invent philosophies and discount
the most reverend theories of the day,
drinking wine by the bottle without compunction,
laughing heartily at your own good graces.
They wonder—shouldn’t you be
more ascetic, skeptics of earthly pleasures
who preserve a rarified silence
and with closed eyes in hollow faces
scale the inward cliffs of the abyssal self.
They ask—haven’t you learned every trick and turn
of the tangle which makes a man,
and so become instructors to future generations,
now hanging upon your words.
The young think old men
should preserve a certain decorum,
listening in silence while their heirs
rage upon the wild injustice of being alive,
beat hands and heads without success
against the world. Then the aged may speak,
dropping slow words to distill the chaos:
understanding and resignation
reveal the secret of life in a potent draught.
Instead, beloved sages, you
still are puzzling; it’s you who rage
and conjecture, while youth is silent before you,
perhaps afraid to find that at sixty,
sixty-five, seventy, men still lack
knowledge and certainty.
You expound new opinions and hopes
with the same vigor and force,
or perhaps even more than you had thirty years ago.
Old men are men first of all,
youths and children before that, dreaming
dreams of grandeur,
flowing like a river from springs
before birth into the deep ocean of death;
each man paddles the waters,
and the current remains steady from start
to finish. The greybeard is
as much humanity as the adolescent after him.
Sages, you are young men still,
though you wear wrinkles and little hair:
some may be unsettled by your vagaries,
but you have found the fountain of youth.
You bow the head and say, ‘yes, I’m a fool,
so I’ll be a fool until life ends’—
that is how you climb the hills of prayer
and dwell thereon, drinking the wine of ages,
inebriating your souls with truth.