Upon reading "When You Are Old" by William Butler Yeats, one may think that it is just the lament of an old woman; this may be true on the surface, but a more in-depth reading will show that it is actually a heart-felt love letter from a former lover. When the poem is dissected and analyzed, it not only tells the reader the old woman's life story, but also gives insights into the narrator. What makes this poem so interesting is that the reader learns about two characters at the same time and may not even realize it. Though only three stanzas in length, the reader is able to take with them the biography of the subject of the poem and have an understanding as to why someone would want to write such a for her.
[...] He makes it seem like no one would care to love her otherwise. Some of her suitors at least appreciated her beauty and loved her for artifical reasons, but there were some whose love was These kinds of men only wanted to exploit her beauty, love cannot even be presumed. One man, however, loved her, and we learn in the line, one man loved the pilgrim soul in that this man is the narrator himself. He spent the entire poem thus far building up to this sudden reversal, when the subject of the poem has now reversed to him. [...]
[...] Due to the fact that the tone seems more loving than harsh, it is most likely the former than the latter. If the author truly wanted the poem to seem harsh, he could have made different word choices. For example, she is “nodding” by the fire, which is evocative of an elderly woman sitting peacefully, relaxing. Perhaps the book he refers to is full of his writings, and she stumbles upon it later, after he has died. What this poem is saying, whether it is actually about bitter or undying affections, is that one must not focus on superficial things with respect to love. [...]
[...] On the other hand, there could be a more sour tone to the poem if you take the stance that the narrator is and old, bitter lover. In which case, this poem is meant to instill guilt and discomfort to the intended reader. She had many men who were interested in her for the wrong reasons, yet she threw away the only one who truly loved her. Not until she is older will she realize this, which is why the narrator titled the poem “When you are old.” At which point she will be alone by the fire, lamenting on the one man that would still be with her at her old age, even if she was no longer the epitome of beauty. [...]
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