When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats

My all-time favorite poem. I read it for the first time as a college freshman. It just stuck.

There are many reasons why I like it – the rhyme and rhythm, the beautiful phrasing, the tender depiction of true love. But – like all great works of art – it leaves you with more questions than answers, wanting more.

Is Yeats talking about unrequited love? Or is he reminding us of the undefeatable passage of time, the temporality of all things? Or is he reminiscing on a deep relationship that has faded like the embers of a dying fire? Crazy stuff.

Here it is:

by: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

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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