Monday, May 27, 2013

Analysis of "When You Are Old" by William Butler Yeats

Original poem reprinted online here: "When You Are Old" by William Butler Yeats
Originally read: (a long time ago, but for this blog) February 18, 2013
More information about the Poet: William Butler Yeats







I just listened to this poem read aloud by Colin Farrell, and then I read some of the comments for this poem -- a very dreamy, nice touching eulogy for a loved one.  And yes I can see that.  The tone of this poem is very loving (because love is repeated multiple times = love, right?) and how the speaker is so tender to the subject.  Not really.

A couple of things, even though the subject is probably near death, the subject is capable of reading and/or taking down a book -- or this is the construction the speaker is addressing.  Also,  the second stanza kind of focuses the love idea to the a singular focus that disperses at the end which fits with the rhyme scheme (a b b a)  rhymes in the middle and rhymes at the end.  And, yes, the poem is in iambic pentameter -- probably one of the most read, but most subtle (meter) poetic devices that, upon further inspection and realization, are meant to memorable, as in easy to remember (rhyme, meter, etc.)

These little techniques, though, contrasts the actuality of the poem.   The speaker is instructing the older construction to read this poem that it's in a book.  The speaker wants to guide the subject into discovery through a very warm, "and nodding by the fire"  and nostalgic, "Your eyes had once," mode.  The speaker creates these very conditions.

In the second stanza there's a weird moment where the speaker acknowledges the worldliness of her beauty, but states that "one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, / And loved the sorrows of your changing face;"  Okay I have to admit this is pretty suave that the focus is on love throughout time rather than the individual moment of beauty.  But that inner voice in me is that the "he" loved his constructed version of her the one that had "sorrow" or was a "pilgrim."  But then there's that other side of me that argues that what the speaker is doing in less than two lines is showing that the he loved her emotionally, spiritually, and physically.  Yes, I will continue to argue with myself about the second stanza.

But not the semi-colon at the end of stanza two which leads to the connection between the subjects current self and the current epiphany.  There's an assumption that the subject learns that the man loved her completely (and currently does) in the second stanza.  What happens in the end is what the speaker wants to happen:  "Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled"  and I think this is the real tragedy in the poem.  The speaker -- (the man in the poem) wants this epiphany to happen, no matter the time and space, but has to construct it in the form of a poem rather than actualizing it.

The last image could be a reference to many things: death, immortally watching, an allusion to God.   Yes, but the image, although can be interpreted in many ways, leads to the same conclusion of loneliness from the speaker -- a sense of distance away from the subject.  Will the subject realize anything, who knows.  But as the reader who read and gained insight and experience from this poem, yeah, I realized a lot.

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