A Cranky Old Man

born 2 B mildWhen an old man died in a nursing home, nurses found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed them, it was spread throughout the nursing home and afar. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in magazines for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his poem. And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.


Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses?

What do you see?

What are you thinking…

When you are looking at me?


A cranky old man,

Not very wise,

Uncertain of habit

With faraway eyes?


Who dribbles his food

And makes no reply.

When you say in a loud voice…

“I do wish you’d try!”


Who seems not to notice…

The tings that you do.

And forever is losing…

A sock or a shoe?


Who, resting or not…

Let’s you do as you will,

While bathing and feeding…

The long day to fill?


Is that what you’re thinking?

Is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, nurse…

You’re not looking at me.


I’ll tell you who I am…

As I sit here so still,

As I do all your bidding,

As I eat your will.


I’m a small child of Ten…

With a father and mother,

Brothers and sisters…

Who love one another.


A young boy of sixteen…

With wings on his feet,

Dreaming that soon now…

A lover he’ll meet.


A groom at twenty…

My heart gives a leap.

Remembering, the vows…

That I promised to keep.


At twenty-five, now…

I have young of my own.

Who need me to guide…

And a secure happy home.


A man of thirty…

My young now grown fast,

Bound to each other…

With ties that will last.


At forty, my young sons…

Have grown and are gone,

But my woman is beside me….

To see I don’t mourn.


At fifty, once more,

Babies play ‘round my knee,

Again, we know children…

My  loved one and me.


Dark days are upon me…

My wife is now dead.

I look to the future…

I shudder with dread.


For my young are all rearing…

Young of their own.

And I think of the years…

And the love that I’ve known.


I’m now an old man…

And nature is cruel.

It’s jest to make old age…

Look like a fool.


The body, it crumbles…

Grace and vigor, depart.

There is now a stone…

Where I once had a heart.


But inside this old carcass…

A young man still dwells,

And now and again…

My battered heart swells.


I remember the joys…

I remember the pain.

And I’m loving and living…

Life over again.


I think of the years,

All too few…gone too fast.

And accept the stark fact…

That nothing can last.


So open your eyes, people…

Open and see.

Not a cranky old man…

Look closer…see…ME!


Remember this poem when you meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the soul within. Remember, we will all, one day, be there, too!


  1. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Some of you may have read this poem before as I have but that does not lessen the impact. Living with my mother in her 90’s and meeting her friends was a valuable lesson. I would be in the kitchen diner where I had my office and would listen to the discussions going on – slipping in from time to time to replenish the preferred alcoholic beverages. Gin, double with a lick of tonic and slice of lemon – double whisky and water, large schooner of sherry and a large glass of red wine. The ladies were all in late 80’s early 90’s but you could have been out with any group of girls from 18- 100. I had to intervene occasionally when discussions would become a little heated about the attributes of some poor unsuspecting acquaintance, and then escort them across the road and round the corner to the local pub that served a very good senior’s lunch on a Friday. Cranky at times yes, but I have more than enough ammunition for a tell all book and enough for a follow up. How they did not get barred from the pub is down to a 70 something Italian waiter who lovingly steered them through their liver and bacon with half portion of dessert. Thank you for the reminder that we should remember that older people have had and continue to have a life.


    • I only got to know that its quality and content of the writings of that man so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital, who I can imagine could have remembered those moments when they looked with different eyes at him who wrote:

      What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
      What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
      A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
      Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
      Who dribbles his food .. . … . . and makes no reply.
      When you say in a loud voice . .’I do wish you’d try!’
      Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
      And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
      Who, resisting or not . . . … lets you do as you will,
      With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
      Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see?


      • Lee Hamilton, rehab worker at South Downs Health, wrote: “This poem is in fact an urban myth, and was in fact written by a 1960’s poet called Phyllis McCormack, after her experiences as a ward nurse”.

        The poem has had many titles since its “discovery” and has had a reply written by a ward nurse, Lee says.

        “One must say though that the truth of the poem’s beginnings does not and should not diminish from its content and meaning and we still should take note of the message.”

        And a trawl through the world wide web reveals just how many people would agree with Lee’s final comment.

        Claire Anderson, a staff nurse on Blanche Ward at the children’s hospital, also wanted to find out whether there had been a reply to The Crabbit Old Woman poem.

        Her researches came up with name of Liz Hogben, although Bruni Abbott of Prince Henry’s Hospital, Melbourne is also cited sometimes as the author, she says.

        Here’s the reply from the nurses:

        “What do we see, you ask, what do we see?
        Yes, we are thinking when looking at thee!
        We may seem to be hard when we hurry and fuss,
        But there’s many of you, and too few of us.
        We would like far more time to sit by you and talk,
        To bath you and feed you and help you to walk.
        To hear of your lives and the things you have done;
        Your childhood, your husband, your daughter, your son.
        But time is against us, there’s too much to do –
        Patients too many, and nurses too few.
        We grieve when we see you so sad and alone,
        With nobody near you, no friends of your own.
        We feel all your pain, and know of your fear
        That nobody cares now your end is so near.
        But nurses are people with feelings as well,
        And when we’re together you’ll often hear tell
        Of the dearest old Gran in the very end bed,

        And the lovely old Dad, and the things that he said,
        We speak with compassion and love, and feel sad
        When we think of your lives
        and the joy that you’ve had,
        When the time has arrived for you to depart,
        You leave us behind with an ache in our heart.
        When you sleep the long sleep, no more worry or care,
        There are other old people, and we must be there.
        So please understand if we hurry and fuss –
        There are many of you,
        And so few of us.”

        Both sides have their stories and makes a heart touching read. 🙂


  2. Reblogged this on From guestwriters and commented:
    In this world many feel lonely. Lots of them have gotten old. Lots of them are abounded, but aside in a nursing home or in a dementia detention ward.

    How de we want to look at others? How shall others look at us now and in a few years time?
    We ourselves should always looking at oothers as children of God. Thowe who are older than ourselves w eshould respect as those who went before us to pave the way in front of us to maje sure that we could have a living too. Them we do owe respect. That is what many forget these days.
    Do we want to see ourselves in the older person? And more important do we want to see the person behind the old wreck we see in front of us?


  3. I always feel so sorry for all these people who are getting older and older and everything they had vanishes, friends and family are gone, they have worked very hard the entire life, and what is the gain?
    I think of the years,

    “All too few…gone too fast.

    And accept the stark fact…

    That nothing can last.”
    That is the scary part: there is a moment when we have to look back and all we see is minus balance. We work so hard to turn it into pluses, but the world really does not care about one aging person.
    The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe had a fantastic poem describing how the one climbing up the mountain loses everything and everybody over years, and when he has reached the top whether the imaginative or the real, he finds that he’s standing there alone and lonely, not even surrounded by trees or lots of flowers, there is one crooked tiny pine and very few small plants growing in the rocks.


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