I used to think that grown-up people chose
To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,
And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,
On purpose to be grand.
Till through the banister I watched one day
My great-aunt Etty's friend who was going away,
And how her onyx beads had come unstrung.
I saw her grope to find them as they rolled;
And then I knew that she was helplessly old,
As I was helplessly young.
The speaker of this poem is looking back on an occasion in her life when she first realized that both young and old people are helpless against the aging process. In lines 1-4, she tells us that she used to think grown-ups "chose" those physical defects that marked them as old, but the speaker also thought they chose them "to be grand." This thought indicates that the speaker was very young, since she thought stiff backs, wrinkles, and veined hands were "grand." (I secretly wish the poet had chosen a different word from "grand," one that truly reflected her meaning; I suspect she settled on grand to rhyme with hand.) The lines 6-10 contain the reason for the speaker's changed opinion about aging grown-ups. She had told us that she used to believe that the grown-ups "chose" those aging qualities until she observed her great-aunt's friend groping helplessly for her beads. The speaker realizes that it is not likely a person would choose to have such difficulty just retrieving some loose beads, so she then realizes that they probably don't choose those visible physical defects either. This observation led the speaker to change her perspective: the adults were just helpless as they acquired those old-age characteristics, and their helplessness paralleled her own, the helplessness of being young. The rhyme scheme in this poem is AA, BB, CC, DE, ED. An interesting rime scheme, but as I mentioned earlier, I believe the rime scheme interferes with meaning. Take "wrinkles round their nose," for...