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

Mirror – Sylvia Plath – Analysis

Mirror

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful,
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Sylvia Plath

S1 – The mirror becomes a person with person attributes. Swallowing is equivalent to reflecting back whatever is in front of the mirror. The mirror is in a room facing a pink wall so it takes on this skin. From time to time faces and darkness separate the mirror from the pink wall which has become its ‘heart’. Whatever it reflects it tells the truth with no emotional response so in a way it is likened to a God being totally honest.

S2 – A lake is personified but this is different from the mirror. A woman (SP) is trying to explore the depths to find out who she really is and when she looks elsewhere there is no faithful reflection. Candles have romantic connotations and the moon insanity. When she cries the lake likes her wet tears. She may touch the water with her hands which is liked equally by the lake. She comes to the lake often and the lake faithfully shows her aging day after day. In her search for identity she has drowned her youth at the same time she is unaccepting of the aging process fearing the future and becoming a fish, a terrible fish the product of a life.

The water in the lake can be regarded as time. Eventually she will be drowned in the lake as time takes its toll. Time will drown us all – well that’s one way of putting it. Whether we become an ugly fish or a beautiful sea-horse is another matter. SP often considered death in her work and in this poem she considers self-discovery, aging and death with a some what depressive outlook on the future.

Sylvia Plath on Wikipedia.

 

Forgetfulness: Billy Collins

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins

I did have some very meaningful comments on this poem … I think I know where I put them … you will just have to wait … that slow realisation so beautifully articulated above as I search the mind … I think I know where they are, no not there Ok … maybe after breakfast …