The Final Lilt of Songs

Age has been on my mind… age and aging.


Last month, I wrote about Walt Whitman. His words continue to resonate, so this month I pick on him again, sharing below To Get the Final Lilt of Songs in its entirety:

To get the final lilt of songs,
To penetrate the inmost lore of poets—to know the mighty ones,
Job, Homer, Eschylus, Dante, Shakespere, Tennyson, Emerson;
To diagnose the shifting-delicate tints of love and pride and doubt—
to truly understand,
To encompass these, the last keen faculty and entrance-price,
Old age, and what it brings from all its past experiences.


Ironically, I don’t think I would have understood this poem as well three months ago as I do today. I don’t think I am so old yet, but I am having experiences, none more penetrating than the death of my daughter, Elisif, on February 11 of this year.


Autumn Leaves—conceived before Elisif’s passing—is a product of my aging… of my recognizing I have traveled a good distance, now that I am 50. The road still spreads before me, but there is much to take in with a backward glance.

Anyone who has lived to a certain age at some point (metaphorically) sits up, takes notice, and lo and behold: life has been led. No longer does the future span like an endless blanket of promise, but rather its finitude is clear. One takes stock.


“To truly understand.”

Three words, standing alone in the third to last line.

No doubt in my mind: Whitman’s poem is really more about the consequences of hard grief than aging. The longer one is alive, the more one is likely to know grief as an intimate, painful friend… and an unexpected gift giver.

(But no—I am not quite being fully accurate here: age is a factor, for I have leaned on all my 50 years to cope with… pass through… grow from… the death of my daughter. I cannot imagine not having those years to draw upon.)


For Autumn Leaves, I have asked 49 people 50 years old or older to publicly share reflections to three questions:

“What gives your life meaning?”

“How do you think about your own dying, or passing?”

“What do you have to say to young people coming after you, or what advice would you give your 21 year old self if you could?”


“The final lilt of songs.”

Autumn Leaves is born of my interest in further gleaning the final lilt of songs.