Featured Poem: Upon His Picture by Thomas Randolph

The Reader’s Learning and Quality Leader, Chris Lynn, reflects on this week’s Featured Poem, Upon His Picture by Thomas Randolph.

For this week’s Featured Poem, we have the pleasure of considering Thomas Randolph’s ‘Upon His Picture’ – and we’ll come out the other end the better for it!

I come to it in a state of illness! In some ways this feels fitting reading through the poem. Being ill is a rare experience for me, having my health and faculties taken away temporarily is a humbling reminder.

Immediately I’m tripped up by that first sentence. That ‘not’ stubs my toe. ‘When age hath made me what I am not now’ subverts my expectation. We are encouraged to believe that our age and experience accumulates to ‘make us’ what we are. It’s as if this describes a state of misrecognition, or unrecognition. Can ‘age’ do that to us?’. Do we find we become someone we are not?

All the language is of the body and an unfamiliarity at this biological thing we are bound to. At the heart is a search for some sort of ‘self’ to recognise:

Not finding what I am, but what I was,
In doubt which to believe, this or my glass:

There’s a choice or a struggle between two things here. Do I believe the mirror, the ‘glass’ or an enigmatic ‘this’. What is being spoken about here?

I’m drawn to thinking about the thread of our ourselves, or a sense of core ‘selfness’. Even though I look back on myself growing up as a boy and feel very detached from him, I am however connected somehow, a remnant of me that feels like it has always been there and present. Does ‘this’ live in family or family bonds?

Yet though I alter, this remains the same
As it was drawn,

 ‘Yet’ there is something undeniable about this thing which remains the same. ‘As is was drawn’ is interesting here as we are in the moment it is happening – being lengthened? Sketched? Outlined? Who or what draws it?

Behold what frailty we in man may see,
Whose shadow is less given to change than he!

I draw some comfort from these last lines which makes me think of how we are ‘given to change’ in a world of constant motion. Is there an anchor point in ourselves?

Upon His Picture

When age hath made me what I am not now,
And every wrinkle tells me where the plow
Of time hath furrowed; when an ice shall flow
Through every vein, and all my head wear snow;
When death displays his coldness in my cheek,
And I myself in my own picture seek,
Not finding what I am, but what I was,
In doubt which to believe, this or my glass:
Yet though I alter, this remains the same
As it was drawn, retains the primitive frame
And first complexion; here will still be seen
Blood on the cheek, and down upon the chin;
Here the smooth brow will stay, the lively eye,
The ruddy lip, and hair of youthful dye.
Behold what frailty we in man may see,
Whose shadow is less given to change than he!

by Thomas Randolph

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to a story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

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