Poetry Friday: When You Are Old


When You Are Old

by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and gray and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes once had, 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.

William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats
Maud Gonne, photo from All the Olympians, by Ulick O’Connor

This poem always stirs up nostalgic feelings in me. In just a few words, Yeats evokes the  beauty of the muse of his youth, Maud Gonne. And yet, “Love fled…and hid his face amid a crowd of stars.” Happy endings are not always possible, but our memories are with us always.

I sometimes think that I’m too nostalgic, but there was an article in the New York Times earlier this week about the positive aspects of nostalgia. Researcher Constantine Sedikides and his colleagues have found that “Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety” as well as “make people more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders.” Once again, poets know intuitively what it takes scientists years to figure out.

Be sure to visit Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

5 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: When You Are Old

  1. How interesting about the nostalgia study! And I love the photo of Maud — I don’t think I’d seen her before. Have you heard Matthew Macfadyen read “When You Are Old”? If you haven’t, you should!


    • Thanks for alerting me to the Matthew Macfadyen video. I enjoyed the modern take on the poem. My vision has always been quite literal–a gray-haired woman sitting in a little cottage!


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