This story was first published on July 25, 2012
Message circulating via social media and email claims that a touching poem about growing old called “Cranky Old Man” was found in the possessions of an old man who died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town.
This is an Australian version of several older stories that have circulated in the United States and the UK for many years. The stories attached to this version of the poem are fictional. The scenario described in the message did not happen and the poem was not found in the belongings of an old man in a nursing home as claimed. The poem itself has a long and somewhat obscure history. The original version featured an old woman rather than an old man and is sometimes attributed to English nurse Phyllis McCormack who reportedly penned it in the 1960’s. The “old man” version of the poem was apparently adapted from the original by David L. Griffith of Texas and can be seen in its original context on the poet’s website.
When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in mags for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, 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’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?
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 at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at 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 soon 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 should 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 at 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 vigour, 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 next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!
PLEASE SHARE THIS POEM (originally by Phyllis McCormack; adapted by Dave Griffith)
The best and most beautiful things of this world can’t be seen or touched. They must be felt by the heart!
This touching and thought-provoking poem, dubbed “Cranky Old Man”, is currently circulating rapidly via social media posts and email. The poem relates life from the perspective of an elderly man whose nurses may just perceive a “cranky old man” who needs constant care rather than the man – and the rich lived life – behind the aged body. The poem is prefixed by a story that claims that the poem was found among the meagre possessions of an old man who died in a nursing home in an Australian country town.
However, the story that comes with this version of the poem is fictional. The poem was not found in the belongings of a nursing home resident in rural Australia as claimed. Nor was it found among the possessions of an old man who died in a hospital in Florida, USA or any other US location. In fact, there have been numerous – equally fictional – US based versions of the poem’s supposed origin.
The poem itself has a long and somewhat convoluted history. The original version of the poem (included below) featured an old woman rather than an old man and was set in the UK. The poem has been known by several names, including “Crabbit Old Woman”, “Kate”, “Look Closer Nurse” and “What Do You See”. For decades, the poem has been included in various publications in the United Kingdom often accompanied by the claim that the poem was found by nursing staff in the belongings of an old woman named Kate who died in a hospital’s geriatric ward. Many versions claim that the hospital was located in Scotland. Others claim the hospital was in England or Wales.
In fact, the provenance of the piece remains somewhat hazy. However, credible reports suggest that the poem may actually have been written by Phyllis McCormack in 1966, who at the time was working as a nurse in a Scottish hospital. In a 2005 report about the poem for ‘Perspectives on Dementia Care’, 5th Annual Conference on Mental Health and Older, Joanna Bornat notes:
Amongst the responses to a small survey which I carried out in 1998 while
researching attitudes to the poem 3 (Bornat, 2004) was a cutting from the Daily Mail
newspaper in which the son of Phyllis McCormack, whose name is often linked with
the poem as its discoverer, explained:
My mother, Phyllis McCormack, wrote this poem in the early Sixties when
she was a nurse at Sunnyside Hospital in Montrose.
Originally entitled Look Closer Nurse, the poem was written for a small
magazine for Sunnyside only Phyllis was very shy and submitted her work
A copy of the magazine was lent to a patient at Ashludie Hospital, Dundee,
who copied it in her own handwriting and kept it in her bedside locker. When
she died, the copy was found and submitted to the Sunday Post newspaper,
attributed to the Ashludie patient.
Since my mother’s death in 1994 her work has travelled all over the world…
(Daily Mail, 12 March 1998).
Somehow this explanation rings true, though it immediately begs the question of how
the origin story was constructed in the first place and whether the poem depends on an
apparent myth for its continuing appeal. Encounters have been mixed as responses to
the 1998 survey suggested.
The currently circulating “old man” variant of the piece is apparently an adaptation of the original by US poet David L. Griffith of Texas and can still be seen in its original context on his website. Griffith calls his adaptation of the poem “Too Soon Old” but it is also known as a “Crabby Old Man” and, as in the version included above, “Cranky Old Man.”
The original version of the poem:
Crabbit Old Woman
What do you see, nurses what do you see
Are you thinking when you are looking at me
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes,
Who dribbles her 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 for ever is losing a stocking or shoe,
Who unresisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill
Is that what you are thinking, is that what you see,
Then open your eyes, nurses, you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I used at your bidding, as I eat at your will,
I am a small child of ten with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another,
A young girl of 16 with wings on her feet
Dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet;
A bride at 20 — my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep
At 25 now I have young of my own
Who need me to build a secure, happy home;
A women of 30 my young now grow fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last,
At 40 my young sons have grown and are gone;
But my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn;
At 50, once more babies play around my knee.
Again we know children, my loved one me
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead,
I look at 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 an old woman now and nature is cruel
’tis her jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where once was a heart
But inside this old carcass a young girl 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, nurses open and see
Not a crabbit old women look closer – see me.