When you are old – W. B. Yeats – Comments

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 mountain overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

W B Yeats (1865 -1939)

My thoughts on this well-known poem …

S1 …The speaker, who may or may not be old himself, is talking to lady who is young. We will consider a male – female conversation. The speaker is saying that when you are old and sitting in your chair by the fireside read my words. At the same time remember your beautiful eyes that were known to me when you were young.

S2 … As you look back on life remember all those that loved you. But this man, the speaker, loved you (all will love you) through the journey of your life with all its ups and downs – your pilgrimage implying a spiritual journey, and moreover he loved or will love your aging face too.

S3 … And when you think of me in old age – personified as Love (note the capital) you will be sad to see how time as fled. The speaker considers himself dead  … the glowing bars has nice double meaning in terms of the lost love … but in a way he will be “hidden alive” – his face amid a crowd of stars.

I must admit that when I read this poem many years ago I thought it a little arrogant, but I do like the way face is a key element in each stanza.

Yeats is often identified in this poem with Maud Gonne, an Irish revolutionary who ended up marrying another man.

This poem was a response by Yeats to the French poet Pierre de Ronsard and his poem When You Are Truly Old.

Quand vous serez bien vieille

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.

Pierre de Ronsard (1524 – 1585), Sonnets pour Hélène, 1578

Here is a literal translation courtesy of – https://lyricstranslate.com

When you are truly old, beside the evening candle,
Sitting by the fire, winding wool and spinning,
Murmuring my verses, you’ll marvel then, in saying,
‘Long ago, Ronsard sang me, when I was beautiful.’

There’ll be no serving-girl of yours, who hears it all,
Even if, tired from toil, she’s already drowsing,
Fails to rouse at the sound of my name’s echoing,
And blesses your name, then, with praise immortal.

I’ll be under the earth, a boneless phantom,
At rest in the myrtle groves of the dark kingdom:
You’ll be an old woman hunched over the fire,

Regretting my love for you, your fierce disdain,
So live, believe me: don’t wait for another day,
Gather them now the roses of life, and desire.

Yeats has converted the sonnet form to three quatrains. And there is quite a different ending in Ronsard’s sonnet. Ronsard is very forceful thinking there is still much regret involved in the relationship using the words fierce disdain, at least from his perspective. And then there is the advice to live each day to the full. Don’t live in the past – So live, believe me: don’t wait for another day.

And my advice is of course to live each day to the full whatever the circumstances and whether you are young or old.

This is an example of taking an existing poem and using it in creating a new poem unique to your own thoughts. A little different from a paraphrase … to express the meaning of (something written or spoken) using different words, especially to achieve greater clarity.

Pierre de Ronsard on Wikipedia – https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_de_Ronsard

W. B. Yeats on Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._B._Yeats

Contrast – Emily Dickinson

Here is a simple poem from Emily Dickinson to illustrate the effective use of contrast in poetry creation.


A door just opened on a street –
I, lost, was passing by –
and instant’s width of warmth disclosed,
and wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
I, lost, was passing by, –
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
Enlightening misery.

Emily Dickinson

To be lost walking the streets … on a cold winters night say, is something easily identified by many. I remember being in this position in London many years ago. But I never experienced the sudden surprise instant open-close of a door to reveal heavenly warmth, friendly company, and wealth. We can image the home to be rather nice in a well to-do-area of the city. Width is so well chosen providing alliteration.

The contrast in feelings is quite striking especially if we assume a party of great warmth and fun to be taking place, all be-it in our imagination. And we identify with the lost soul in the cold struggling on to find their whereabouts – their misery enlightened. I like the double use of that last word comparing the street with the inside of the briefly revealed brightness of the home.

Contrast is a rhetorical device through which writers identify differences between two subjects, places, persons, things, or ideas. Simply, it is a type of opposition between two objects, highlighted to emphasize their differences. Contrast comes from the Latin word, contra stare, meaning to stand against.

Colour Blind – Lemn Sissay – Analysis

Colour Blind

If you can see the sepia in the sun
Shades of grey in fading streets
The radiating bloodshot in a child’s eye
The dark stains on her linen sheets
If you can see oil separate on water
The turquoise of leaves on trees
The reddened flush of your lover’s cheeks
The violet peace of calmed seas

If you can see the bluest eye
The purple in petals of the rose
The blue anger, the venom, of the volcano
The creeping orange of the lava flows
If you can see the red dust of the famished road
The white air tight strike of Nike’s sign
the skin tone of a Lucien Freud
The colours of his frozen subjects in mime

If you can see the white mist of the oasis
The red, white and blue that you defended
If you can see it all through the blackest pupil
The colours stretching the rainbow suspended
If you can see the breached blue dusk
And the caramel curls in swirls of tea
Why do you say you are colour blind when you see me?

Lemn Sissay (1967 –

Nike’s sign – the distinctive white Nike tick sign used on athletic clothing … the air tight strike  – well chosen words considering Nike running shoes.

Lucian Freud was a British painter and draughtsman, specialising in figurative art, and is known as one of the foremost 20th-century portraitists.

There are plenty of end rhyming words but this is very much a list poem IF being the predominant word. The IF addresses the reader in force with the repetition giving emphasis on the sensitivity of the reader to colour. There are many striking ways in which the poem red-lines the beauty of colour in all of life. But more than that colour is representative of deeper meaning as in – The red, white and blue that you defended.

But the last line asks that important colour question that if you can see such marvels as this why do you say you are colour blind when viewing me? Why do you have to say black and white is the same to you? Putting it another way why do you have to say black is Ok, or that black is equivalent to white.

People should not have to say they are non-racial? It is more important to be respectful and sensitive to the great diversity of race and the beauty of each colour. It is insensitive to say you are insensitive to another. It is more important to be sensitive without needless verbalisation!

Interesting I think the word Lemn means why.

The background to an outstanding poet from England with strong Ethiopian heritage is quite amazing. Lemn Sissay had a very difficult childhood.

He was born in Billinge, near Wigan, Lancashire to Ethiopian and Eritrean parents. Sissay’s mother had come from Ethiopia to the UK in 1967. She fostered her son and returned to Africa. He was adopted by a family in the north of England and was with them for 11 years. He has commented “My parents were very religious. They told me that they had not decided to take me in, rather that it was God that had decided it for them … To them I had become a Trojan horse that symbolised evil. They said that I was bringing evil into their home, that there was this mighty struggle inside me and that God was losing.” He has written that he felt lost, as though he was growing up in an alien environment. He attributes this to the fact that the family was white and he didn’t meet many black people until he was an adult. When he was 11, Sissay was put into care. His adoptive family told him that they would cease all contact from that point. From 11 to 17 he lived in various children’s homes in Lancashire.

At eighteen years old he moved from Atherton, Greater Manchester, to the city of Manchester. By the age of nineteen he was a literature development worker at Commonword, a community publishing cooperative in Manchester.

He met his birth mother when he was 21, after a long search. She was working for UN in the Gambia. By the age of 32 he found his whole birth family, documenting the journey.

For more information on his great success as a poet and broadcaster
Lemn Sissay MBE on Wikipedia


The Nature of Love – Rabindranath Tagore – Comments

The Nature of Love

The night is black and the forest has no end;
a million people thread it in a million ways.
We have trysts to keep in the darkness, but where
or with whom — of that we are unaware.
But we have this faith — that a lifetime’s bliss
will appear any minute, with a smile upon its lips.
Scents, touches, sounds, snatches of songs
brush us, pass us, give us delightful shocks.

Then peradventure there’s a flash of lightning:
whomever I see that instant I fall in love with.
I call that person and cry: ‘This life is blest!
For your sake such miles have I traversed!’
All those others who came close and moved off
in the darkness — I don’t know if they exist or not.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861 – 1941)

Tryst = secret romantic meeting

Here are my thoughts on this philosophic poem from this Indian prophet/poet master.

Love and nature go hand in hand for many regard the creation of the universe as being based on love. In that way it is a fitting link in the title.

Lines 1-4 … Life can be mysterious and likened to a forest where we transact with many as we live. Trysts imply romantic associations in our meetings with others. True that we never know who we are going to meet each day and that Christians are impelled to love others in life but not necessarily like them of course. But romantic love is something different so I have to come to terms in reconciling the tryst idea in transactions with others.

Lines 5-8 … Do we search for bliss over our lifetime? And do we have faith that we will eventually find this magical substance through living? Well the process of living gives snatches of delightful shock to the senses.

Lines 9-14 … I have broken this sonnet with a blank line for the last 6 lines give dramatic change from the bliss of human relationships to the wondrous flash spiritual encounter with love supreme. In other words you could say a mountain top experience of God. And ‘For your sake such miles have I traversed!’ implies that this gives meaning to life. And the sonnet ends stating that human relationships fade away and are not real in comparison – ‘I don’t know if they exist or not’.

The poem is a personal spiritual statement. How the reader relates to such is equally personal and based on individual life experience. A poem that engenders thought on our spiritual nature.

Rabindranath Tagore on Wikipedia

Summary info … Rabindranath Tagore was born on 7 May 1861 in Calcutta. He was India’s greatest modern poet and the most creative genius of the Indian Renaissance. Besides poetry, Tagore wrote songs (both the words and the melodies), short stories, novels, plays (in both prose and verse), essay on a wide range of topics including literary criticism, polemical writing, travelogues, memoirs and books for children. Apart from a few books containing lectures given abroad and personal letters to friends who did not read Bengali, the bulk of his voluminous literary output is in Bengali. Gitanjali (1912), Tagore’s own translation of the poetic prose from the Bengali Gitanjali (1910) won him the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913. Tagore died on 7 August 1941 in the family house in Calcutta where he was born.

The Second Coming – W. B. Yeats – comments

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Willian Butler Yeats (1885 – 1939)

Gyre – large spiral circular motion
Spiritus Mundi – the spirit or collective soul of the universe

S1 … not a very cheerful viewing of a world in change! … in chaotic change … I guess the virus and the rising of social networking has challenged the establishment in all its inadequacies … so those of a depressive pessimistic nature might say we are all doomed!

S2 … well, here we have the reason for the doom … the second coming (written in 2019) … different from the first … the beast is arising out of the desert like a great ancient Egyptian monument coming to life … and the dark side of humanity dominates … personified in the waking of an ancient relic … its hour come round at last.

Things falling apart has attracted the public to this well known poem … see this article  – from The Guardian

Of course I don’t believe that we are all doomed and that our darker side will take control and chaos will reign supreme. Incidentally, it all started with chaos according to the Greeks … so it would be complete full circle … and back to step one

We each control our own destiny and the upheaval being experienced is a world wide sensitivity that change is needed and a better world wanted by all and for all … so hopefully this will occur … in due time …

The Australian bush fires were truly apocalyptic but they have come and gone and recovery can be seen as expressed in the image and words below … and I am sure that the world as a whole will march triumphantly in time for all to enjoy in new leaf …


Australian bush 3 months after the fires – North Durras NSW

notwithstanding the summer fury
and the devastation of environment
bearded black faces show a green future
a bird is singing unseen

W. B. Yeats on Wikipedia

Golden Island Shopping Centre – Paul Durcan – Comments

Golden Island Shopping Centre

After tortellini in The Olive Grove on the quays
I drive over to the adjacent shopping centre,
Golden Island Shopping Centre,
Around whose acres of car park
I drive in circles for quarter of an hour
Before finding a slot in a space painted yellow:
Two hours later I stumble from Tesco
With high-altitude sickness;
Dazed, exhausted, apprehensive, breathless;
In worse condition than
Many a climber on the South Col of Everest.
Such mobs of shoppers on a Sunday afternoon,
Such powerlessness.
Loading up the boot of my car
I see through a white mist
A small bejowled, red-headed, middle-aged lady in black
Standing in front of my car
With a Jack Russell terrier in a muzzle.
She is writing down my registration number.
I inquire “What are you doing?”
She snaps: “You can see perfectly well what I am doing.”
I ask: “Why are you writing down my registration number?”
From under the visor of her black baseball cap
She barks: “You have no right
To park your car in the space reserved for
I rumble in an avalanche of offended dignity:
“How dare you!
I am a Golden Island Expectant Mother!
I am a fifty-eight-years old male of the species
And I have been expecting for nineteen years.
Only last week I had a scan.
Despite you and your terrier
Ireland remains my native land –
My Golden Island –
And I will park where I can.
So go soap your jowls in the jacuzzis of Malaga:

Paul Durcan (1944 –
from ‘The Art of Life’, 2012

After tortellini in The Olive Grove on the quays
I drive over to the adjacent shopping centre,

Perhaps PD has just had a nice Sunday lunch and probably a glass of wine but now it is time to go shopping. It is only a short distance and again perhaps indicating a need to have his car close to the shops for walking and packing.

It is very frustrating when you can’t find a parking spot. And it is very tempting to take a place reserved for permit holders, the disabled or in this case GOLDEN ISLAND EXPECTANT MOTHERS. It looks like this signage is very significant to the mind of PD being in capitals.

Shopping was obviously a great struggle and he emerges in quite a state – dazed, exhausted, apprehensive ,breathless and equally it is a struggle to load the boot.

A little unfortunate that he confronts not a parking inspector but a lady who is indignant at taking a spot reserved for pregnant ladies – A small bejowled?, red-headed, middle-aged lady in black. She seems to be somewhat officious and is taking his number plate. Appropriate colors are chosen – red and black – and she had her Jack Russell terrier in a muzzle a dog like the owner known to be vicious. There is no leniency given to this poor old fellow and PD is angry at such lack of respect.

So he then defines himself as a GOLDEN ISLAND EXPECTANT MOTHER. He states that he has been expecting for nineteen years. Now a normal pregnancy is nine months. I think that maybe he is talking about a medical condition that far outweighs the struggle of pregnancy. And he states emphatically that Ireland is his GOLDEN ISLAND and that he will park where he can.

His final outrage response is to give the colourful retort ‘go soap your jowls in the jacuzzis of Malaga.’ Well, only a poet can come up with something original in such confrontational circumstances. And then he tells the lady emphatically I AM A GOLDEN ISLAND EXPECTANT MOTHER! It would surprise me greatly if the red-headed lady recognized this personification.

From this poem you might think that PD himself is a rather outlandish character unafraid of standing his ground against authority and himself a little cantankerous. He is an Irish poet of note.

From Wikipedia …
He was shortlisted in 2005 for the Poetry Now Award for his collection, The Art of Life. In 2009, he was conferred with an honorary degree by Trinity College, Dublin. Durcan was the Ireland Fund Artist-in-Residence in the Celtic Studies Department of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto in October 2009. In 2011 Durcan was conferred with an honorary doctorate from University College Dublin. Between 2004–2007 Durcan was the third Ireland Professor of Poetry.

More information on Paul Durcan on Wikipedia.

Description of an idea – Bruce Dawe – Analysis

Description of an idea

You can nail it to a cross
And it will rise again after three days.
You can put it in the arena with several wild beasts
and it will survive its own dismemberment.
You can tie it to a stake and light faggots under it
and the crackling of the flames will speak volumes.
You can exile it to Siberia
and it will still cry out with the voice of Ivan Denisovich.
You can beat it to a bloody pulp in a public square in Peking
and it will still think of freedom.
You can turn the Star Chamber and the SS
and the KGB and the Savak
and the State Security Bureau
loose on it

and someone somewhere will still think it
and someone somewhere will still die for it
and someone somewhere will give it new life.

For an idea is an organism more mysterious in its action
than the miracidium.
…You can declare an idea anathema to 999,999,999 people
and the billionth will reach for a dictionary.

Bruce Dawe (1930 – 2020)

Miracidium – a free-swimming cillated larval stage which a parasitic fluke passes from the egg to its first host, typically a snail

Anathema – something greatly disliked

Essentially a list poem of six ‘You can …’ type statements which show serious repressive organisations and associated horrific happenings over the ages in chronological order …

The crucifixion
Gladiator fights
Burning at the stake
Siberia – used by Russia as a place of exile
Ivan Denisovich – a prisoner of war by the Germans who was incorrectly sentenced to 10 years forced labour by Russia
Star Chamber – English court which sat in the royal Palace of Westminster from the 15th century to the mid-17th century
SS – military branch of the Nazi party
KGB – Secret Police of the Soviet Union
Savak – secret police in Iran supported by the USA
State Security Bureau – secret intelligence and security in China
(George Floyd can now be added to the list.)

And then the three ‘and someone somewhere’ responses that the idea will still live … and of more importance ‘someone will die for it’ … indicating the idea has value.

And then the closing two statements that an idea is a truly mysterious thing in its action … and that word miracidium a mysterious wonder of the natural world … and the idea may be anathema to a billion but to someone it will be worth considering … looking in the ‘dictionary’ = to try to understand what it means.

And other thoughts come to mind on this idea of an impregnable idea … perhaps freedom and the human spirit itself is equally impregnable … I like to think so.

Bruce Dawe an Australian poet who died earlier this year … a link to one of his memorable poems – ‘At Shaggers Funeral’.

Bruce Dawe on Wikipedia.

Timothy Winters – Charles Causley – Comments

Timothy Winters

Timothy Winters comes to school
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.

His belly is white, his neck is dark,
And his hair is an exclamation mark.
His clothes are enough to scare a crow
And through his britches the blue winds blow.

When teacher talks he won’t hear a word
And he shoots down dead the arithmetic-bird,
He licks the patterns off his plate
And he’s not even heard of the Welfare State.

Timothy Winters has bloody feet
And he lives in a house on Suez Street,
He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor
And they say there aren’t boys like him any more.

Old man Winters likes his beer
And his missus ran off with a bombardier.
Grandma sits in the grate with a gin
And Timothy’s dosed with an aspirin.

The Welfare Worker lies awake
But the law’s as tricky as a ten-foot snake,
So Timothy Winters drinks his cup
And slowly goes on growing up.

At Morning Prayers the Master helves
For children less fortunate than ourselves,
And the loudest response in the room is when
Timothy Winters roars “Amen!”

So come one angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says “Amen
Amen amen amen amen.”
Timothy Winters, Lord.

Charles Causley (1917 -2003)

This is probably the most well-known poem of Charles Causley. It is based on a real person. It is an eight stanza ballad written in the 1950s about a boy who was afflicted with a series of misfortunes aptly described in each stanza.

Here is a reading of the poem by the author

S1 … people would have known about the blitz
S2 … home life is clearly expressed in the state of dress and personal presentation
S3 … not a good scholar, rather bad manners at table – not aware of ‘Welfare’
S4 … shoes are lacking, his bed rather primitive … thought to be not in society
S5 … his dad is a bit of an alcoholic so too his Grandma who is now looking after him after his mum took off with a soldier
S6 … Welfare aren’t very responsive to the situation
S7 … prayers at school include the less fortunate … he certainly says amen to that but the question is – is he just saying amen with no understanding of his unfortunate predicament
S8 … come one angel come ten or more … here’s a plea … Timothy Winters has asked for help whether he is aware or not of his need … he certainly needs his prayers to be answered.

This poem asks a few questions including …

How does society integrate the disadvantaged and unlikable? … the role of ‘Welfare’ and similar support organisations and that of individual response?

How to stop further disadvantage when in mainstream life? Well, in three words awareness, acceptance and support.

Considering awareness, here is an incident when I was a seven or eight year old. My mother had kindly invited an elderly friend for afternoon tea and it was a somewhat formal occasion as we all sat around the dining table. Towards the end of the tea I noticed her friend trying to pick up the patterned flowers from her plate to eat. I sadly admit that my response was to laugh for I knew nothing about being elderly. Awareness, and hopefully respect and sensitivity, increases both with life-experience and education.

Unfortunately that was far from the case in the reprehensible inhuman police killing of the African-American man George Floyd. It leaves an ugly scar on the face of modern day America.

Charles Causley on Wikipedia