Oldfield, Sybil and Gwenyth Shaw, editors. The Old Familiar Faces 2007. Lewes, UK. ISBN 978-0-9554-114-1-0 Review and photo of Sybil Oldfield by Theresa Wolfwood

“I have had playmates, I have had companions…362

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 also.

The editors have collected 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

Handbag by Ruth Faimlight, 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, but 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 go on with 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.


Filed under Book Reviews, Gwenyth Shaw, Sybil Oldfield