When who is old?

I think it’s about time for another William Butler Yeats poem.  This one is called ‘When you are old’ (and I know the feeling:))   I always think it an extra bonus when the poet themselves actually reads their own poem.  After all, the writer above all knows the way that their work was meant to sound.

‘When You are Old’ was written for  Maud Gonne , a woman who rejected his proposals and there are some beautiful sentiments within the poem about the longevity of love.  But this could also be interpreted as ‘well you missed your chance with me….’ though.  Or you could see it as Yeat’s saying that beauty has fled and with it many admirers, but one remains steadfast.  The way that the poem is read has a kind of lulling and comforting quality.  it is sad in places, but the ‘when’ of it suggests that the woman isn’t yet old.   Which way you would you interpret this poem yourself?

Video from SpokenVerse Thanks!

Butler Yeats, a short biography here


Plus……… over on Book stains….

13 thoughts on “When who is old?

  1. Oh my. First of all I love this poem and agree with you about listening to the poet read their own poems. I enjoy that, here, and on Adam’s and Bliss’s blogs. There is something extra added to the poetry by listening to them. That said, I like to think that he was not shunned by that “love” he speaks of, but that these men or women who have loved him have passed on ahead of him thus the speaking of the mountains and walking above. Love the post, Lynda. Thank-you.

    1. I like the line ‘and hid his face amid a crowd of stars’, this does seem to point to those who have gone before him. The poem does have a ‘death’ theme in it literally. The glowing bars from the fire, warming and also marking the passage of time… Glad you liked this as much as me Leslie – so many interesting ways of interpreting this poem, which makes it fascinating!

  2. I think it is written in recognition that although their relationship didn’t develop romantically…it was nevertheless memorable. You are never certain how the patina of time will color things.

    1. Yet another way to interpret the poem Al! You make a good point about how we look back on the past, and how our judgements are coloured with the passing of time. Thanks!

  3. Lynda, thank you for posting one of my favorites. It’s been a while since I read “When You Are Old” and hearing it was a treat. I don’t think this poem was necessarily meant to say “you missed your chance with me,” perhaps more like you crushed me for life (the resolution of the last line is to hide face). I think the poem resounds along the lines of… when everyone else leaves you, all your actor friends, you can read this book someday and know that you were really loved and had inspired something that will survive today because of the unrequited feelings and inspiration I held for you. Beautifully sad poem.

    Also, Thank you, Leslie, for the kind mention in your comment 🙂

    1. Hmm, Hi Adam. I don’t think Maude crushed WB Yeats for life. Not at all. More of MUSE fixation I think. Afterall, he lived, married, had children and did NOT commit suicide for lack of love like Nerval. I read it more as he loved her for her essence rather than for some superficial obession with her beauty. But, these are just my opinions.

  4. It is a beautifully sad poem Adam. At least the love was real and like you say, will remain in the pages of the poetry she inspired. A fabulous interpretation of this poem Adam – Thanks!

  5. Thank you for posting this poem–makes me think of my father, now 88, nodding in his chair, while my mother, only 86 and acting as if she weren’t a day over 75, fusses about around him.

    Wonderful to hear a poet reading his work.

    1. I love the sound of Butler Yeats voice reading his own work too Jane. Your parents sound like Darby and Joan:) This poem paints this scene beautifully! So many interesting interpretations with Butler Yeats poetry. I think this is another reason why his poems are still enjoyed and shall endure.
      Thanks Jane!

  6. 17 years of perpetual rejections seems rather disturbed to me even now.
    Love the poem, always have.
    But when I put in the context of Yeats and Maude—oh boy—yikes for him. Then again, he sure didn’t have any lack of ‘bedwarming’ women even while penning poetry for woeing The Maude. Georgie must have been a sort of ‘saint’–or a great sinner.

    1. Hheheh ‘bedwarming women’ 🙂 From what I read Maude had some disturbing habits herself 🙂 Some of these artists and poets seem to have had Rock star status as far as women were concerned! Mind you, besides being a great poet, he does have a nice lulling voice too which must have added to his success with women………….heheh:)

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