Beauty of an Aged Face

‘The Old Woman’

As a white candle
In a holy place,
So is the beauty
Of an aged face.

As the spent radiance
Of the winter sun,
So is a woman
With her travail done,

Her brood gone from her,
And her thoughts as still
As the waters
Under a ruined mill.

— Joseph Campbell

Nice simple verse. I like the metaphor comparing aged faces with lit candles. I know some older people who do so inspire, whose eyes shine with wisdom. Yet I know some older faces that are not lit, those with dull eyes that belie deep weariness of life. These may be equally holy, but I would not equate them with lit candles. The same goes for the metaphor comparing aged thoughts and still waters. There are two ways to interpret that. Stillness can come from calm awareness, or from stagnation.

2 thoughts on “Beauty of an Aged Face

  1. I think you’re right. I think Mr. Campbell must have only known a certain type of old face. I guess, I mean that I see old faces and think, “That’s what I want to become.” But, not all old faces are like that.

  2. Many years ago I took a community class in Hinduism, and I’ve always remembered one of the ideas passed on–that in Hindu culture, old age is considered the appropriate time to immerse oneself in spiritual ideas, go on pilgrimages, take on ascetic disciplines and the like. There seems to be a natural congruency between the slowing down of the aging process and the attainment of deeper levels of wisdom. In our society, where we tend to live longer, we also create an expectation that even one’s senior years should be _productive_. And when someone is no longer seen as such, we tend to want to sweep them under the carpet. Thus the vacant or saddened looks on some elder faces. It’s deeply saddening.

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