"The poem tells the story of an old woman in a nursing home who is reflecting back on her life."
The story goes that the Cranky Old Man poem was found among the personal belongings of an elderly man who died in a geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town. The resident did not have any close relatives or family and this poem was found by nurses as they boxed up his personal belongings. However, the truth is it was written by a nurse in a Scots geriatric hospital and shot to prominence after being printed in The Post more than 40 years ago.
"Crabbit Old Woman", (Crabbit is Scottish for "bad-tempered" or "grumpy"), also variously titled "Look Closer", "Look Closer Nurse", "Kate", "Open Your Eyes" or "What Do You See?", was originally written in 1966 by Phyllis McCormack, then working as a nurse in Sunnyside Hospital, Montrose, a coastal resort town and former royal burgh in Angus, Scotland. The poem tells the story of an old woman in a nursing home who is reflecting back on her life.
Here are the popular various versions of the poem, including "A Nurse's reply to the Crabbit Old Woman Poem" - (3rd poem below).
(Sometimes Published as "Look Closer", "Look Closer Nurse", "Kate", "Open Your Eyes" or "What Do You See?")
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-
- By Phyliss McCormick
An American poet, David L. Griffith of Fort Worth, Texas, adapted the original poem, changed the gender of the protagonist from "old woman" to "old man" and called it: "Too Soon Old." The currently circulating version of the poem called the "Cranky Old Man" is a variant of Griffith's poem. It is also known as a "Crabby Old Man."
(Sometimes Published as "Look Closer", "The Cranky Old Man" or "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 - 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's 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 - 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 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 crabby old man - Look closer - see ME!!
- The Crabby Old Man poem is said to be a rendition of a poem by David Griffith in Texas.
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.
- Said to have been written by Liz Hogben, although Bruni Abbott is sometimes cited as the author.
An elderly woman, reflecting on her life, challenges nurses to see more than an angry old woman
"Look at Me" poem set to song and background music.
"A Nurse’s Reply/Response" is a follow-up to "The Cranky Old Man" poem.
NOTE: If you wish to print these poems click here for our printable version.
You may also be interested in a Sunday Post article titled, "The true story behind 'The Cranky Old Man' internet poem that has become world famous".
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