Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Crabbit Old Woman

My schoolfriend Neville has just connected up with me again, and sent me a copy of The Crabby Old Man. This is how it came to him on the internet.


When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near Tampa, Florida, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through his meager 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 Missouri ..

The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem.

And this little old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

Crabby Old Man

What do you see nurses?....What do you see?
What are you thinking......when you're looking at me?
A crabby 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, 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 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.
Forty, my young sons.....have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside 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.
Tis 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 guy still dwells,
And now and battered heart swells.
I remember the joys..............I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and 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, and see.
Not a crabby 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! (Much sooner than we expect to be there.)


The best and most beautiful things of this world can't be seen or touched. They must be felt by the heart.


Alert readers will know this is a masculine version of The Crabbit Old Woman . I like the version of that poem and the nurse's reply which I found this morning. It sounds old, but the authoritative Wikipedia[!] says it can't be traced back before 1973, though someone claims their mother wrote it in the 60s.

What do you see, what do you see?
Are you thinking, when you look at me-
A crabbit old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with far-away 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 forever is loosing a stocking or shoe.
Who, unresisting or not; lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding the long day is fill.

Is that what you're thinking,
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes,
nurse, you're looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still!
As I rise at your bidding, as I eat at your will.

I'm a small child of 10 with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who loved one another-
A young girl of 16 with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet,
A bride soon 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 woman 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 and 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 is crumbled, grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart,
But inside this old carcass, a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells,
I remember the joy, 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, nurse, open and see,
Not a crabbit old woman, look closer-
See Me.

By: Phyilis McCormack

A Nurse's reply

"To the 'Crabbit Old Woman"

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.


Genie said...

As a student nurse back in 1973-75 I was given this poem by an instructor. It impressed me then -- it impresses me even more now, as I gain the understanding that comes with personal experience of the stages of life.

David McKay said...

You are so right!
I first read The Crabbit Old Woman at the age of about 30. Last week I turned 58 and attended my 100 year old Aunt's funeral.

I think I understood the poem somewhat in my 30s, but perspective changes as I all-too-quickly turn into the subject of the poem!

akageorge said...

I believe the original author was Phyllis McCormack, a Scottish nurse, who wrote it in 1966 for a small workplace newsletter. The story about it being found among an old person's belongings after death seems to be because a woman copied it out in her own handwriting and it was attributed to her.