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When You Are Old -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by JP Andrews
(Poem #436) When You Are Old
  When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
  Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

  How many loved your moments of glad grace,
  And loved your beauty with love false or true,
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
  And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

  And bending down beside the glowing bars,
  Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
  And paced upon the mountains overhead
  And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
-- William Butler Yeats
           (1892)

I will leave the analysis to someone better qualified than myself. All I
know for sure is that I love this poem, have loved it since the moment I
first read it. It was the first piece of poetry I ever sent my wife, back
when we were courting. She told me recently that she knew I loved her when I
sent her Yeats.

JP Andrews

79 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

On 24 May 2000, Martin Julian DeMello saw fit to inform me that:

> 'When You Are Old'

Reminds me of another favorite - "John Anderson, My Jo" by Robbie
Burns.

Robert Burns. 1759–1796

497. John Anderson, my Jo

JOHN ANDERSON, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John, 5
Your locks are like the snow;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither; 10
And monie a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot, 15
John Anderson, my jo.

-s

Suresh Ramasubramanian + suresh (@) kcircle.com+ [broken link] http://www.kcircle.com
What ever happened to diversity?...The longer you work here, diverse it gets.
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Young524 said...

THIS POEM IS PROFOUND LOVELY LOVELY.

Soapurr said...

I love this poem, so tender and so sweet......... nice to know that love doesn't stop from beyond the grave.

"These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but *minds* alive on the
shelves." - Gilbert Highet

Bacardi52 said...

this poem in the end is not all that romantic. sure he is telling her (most
likely maude gonne- who rejected him a number of times- and then he went for
her daughter who also rejected him-hmmm was it maude? or did he marry maude?
well a girl who rejected him a number of times)
i digress- yes he is saying that he loved her for who she was, and not for
superficial reason like her beauty the way others loved her. but now she is
old and he still loves her even in her old age. but don't forget how it ends
"Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars."

his love fled- well... fled... his love was rejected in the end, and he fled
and watches her, in love with her, from afar.
so it is saying that he loves this woman whether old or not, and that he
loved her for the person she was inside, and it is saying that he still loves
her even though he watches from afar. but at the same time it is sad that he has
to pace the mountains overhead and hide his face amid stars instead of being
by her side in love with her.

gayathri.chandru said...

The poem is mainly about his rejection from Maude, about 5 times,

It pretty much says how she will eventually regret her decision to reject
his 'true' love.

This poem has a sinister undertone that just creeps me out.

Ndo Nyembezi said...

In my 20's I was given this poem by my lover at the time. He was roughly 40
years my senior. I had just turned down his marriage proposal. The poem made
me love him so much. I still do. Reading it just brings back the saddest
sweet memories. Thank you for the sharp relief.

Ndo (South Africa)

joel dewberry fabric said...

The poem is really nice. Really heartwarming. I hope someone would really unearth the real meaning of this poem.

Michael said...

Incredibly beautiful. I think it's been years since i've read this and Ive forgotten how keening and warm and longing it is. Maybe I was too young to get that stuff when I read it first, wonderful!

Anonymous said...

It's a bitter break-up poem. It basically says that the addressee (Maude) will be old and gray and lose her beauty, while the poet will console himself with his writing, which will live forever with other great literature ("hid his face amid a crowd of stars"). The perfection of the language, the meter, and the rhyme only make it all the more sardonic, underscoring Yeats' greatness as a poet. Gayatri's right. There's a sinister undertone in all this, all the more so because the poem is so beautiful.

Sourav said...

Thats true, there is a sinister undertone to it.
But not romantic??? I cannot disagree more.
Which poet in this universe has ever written such a line for his lady:
" But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;"

Each time I read these lines, I am amazed over and over again. This has been my favorite piece of poetry since I first read it.

Anonymous said...

Cf Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 'Love in the Time of Cholera'

Barry Breen said...

Three people say there is a sinister undertone to this poem but fail to say where they get that impression. Which words? Which images? And where on earth is the sardonic element. Somebody else waits for the 'real meaning' to be unearthed. Read the poem - it is what it says. It is clear and beautifully expressed, and is, incidentally, based on an earlier French poem, Quand vous serez bien vielle... by Pierre de Ronsard, which basically says: Don't have regrets later in life, gather life's roses today.

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