Teacher Diaries: Miss Alison – The Poem I Love

Written by William Butler Yeats who was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923, this poem evokes a sense of remorse from its readers while trying to make them reflect upon the grave topics of aging and love.

The first two stanzas depict how the woman the poet loved would feel when she becomes old and then she would recall how many people loved her because of her beauty. I like the way how listlessness is conveyed through the use of diction (words like ‘old’, ‘grey’ and ‘full of sleep’) and a detailed description of the scene. Everything seems so dull and disappointing, yet there is a twist in the last two lines of the second stanza: “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you/ And loved the sorrows of your changing face.” This alleviates the blues of the readers by pointing out the crux that love is not based on the fondness of outer beauty but the attachment to a soul.

The third stanza is another twist that dealt a blow to me when I first read this poem. Notice the use of personification in the second line: “how Love fled”. How many relationships can end up with a happy ending? The last two lines illustrate a beautiful imagery that brings forward the repentance for not treasuring one’s love. I like how the fickle nature of love is portrayed together with the cruelty of aging in the poem. I am sure that you will gain some insight after reading 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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