When You Are Old

This is one of my favourite poems, with obvious connections to the theme of ‘beauty’. I’ve been told it’s terribly sad, and I suppose it is. But to me it’s more of a recognition of the impermanence of all things – love, beauty, life – and that is not sad, it’s just real.

I hope you enjoy it.

When You Are Old

by William Butler Yeats

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.

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2 thoughts on “When You Are Old

  1. L,
    I just discovered this – what do you call it – site , and saw the poem of William Butler Yeats, ‘When you are old and grey…etc’ . you quoted way back in February. It’s one of my favourite poems too.But here’s a funny, well not that funny, weirdish maybe, story…

    When I was a teenager, portable tape recorders had just become affordable, and one of the things young people did with them was record their own voices (peculiar, no?) or their voices and others. I don’t know if it was especially popular up the River. We were easily amused, but still it was an opportunity there for people who would not otherwise have done it to play verbal dress-ups, make up their own dramas, and so on.

    However the day I and two other definitely non-literary members of our local cricket team decided to amuse the world with the sound of our voices, one of the lads, a big country boy of, apparently, German background, though no-one ever heard him speak a word of German, picked up a book of poetry and absolutely at random read out Yeats’ poem very slowly in a strong German accent. I hate to use the word surreal, because it’s overdone, and I’m not really sure what it means anyhow, but can you imagine the effect of: “When you are old unt grey unt full of sleep…” ?

    I still like the poem but I find it hard to read without seeing a shaggy browed, thick-set cricketer with horny hands and heavy boots in the background.
    R.

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