My favourite Irish Poems - When you are old by WB Yeats
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gifts for poetry lovers famous irish poems wb yeats by six0six design

Favourite Irish poems – When You Are Old

My favourite Irish poems.

I have been reading a lot of  Irish poetry recently, as I was researching a new product design. The Irish poetry pencils were inspired by a special commission for a customer. To select the poems I did a lot of research on what are considered to be the favourite Irish poems of all time. The five poems that I eventually selected were a combination of this research but also my favourites too. PS All of the poems chosen are also out of copyright.

Famous Irish poets gifts for poetry lovers by six0six design made in Ireland

When you are old

The first poem that I chose was one that I have loved since I was a kid. I remember getting a little book of poetry from my parents, it was from the National Gallery of Ireland and each poem had a painting beside it. And my favourite was this poem by Yeats.

It was beside this painting of an old lady, face lined with age and many years wisdom. And every time I go to the gallery I find that painting and I can hear the words of the Yeats poem in my head. I hear it as a slow poem, told with the weight of years on its shoulders.

I love the way Yeats creates such powerful imagery with his words, I can see the old woman full of sleep sitting by a fire and dreaming. The poet asks her to think about how she will feel when she is ‘old and grey’, to think of how she was loved by many but only one loved her truly. For he loved ‘the sorrows of your changing face’. He loved the truth of her beyond surface beauty.

A warning given

The last verse always makes me sad, because I feel like Yeats is saying goodbye. He says ‘how Love fled‘ – Yeats leaving his love behind, telling this woman that he will leave her and find his place ‘amid a crowd of stars’. A warning that if love is not returned it will be lost and she will live to regret it. But perhaps there is hope there too, as he is warning her that this could be the future, but it hasn’t happened yet. And even though he talks about going off to find his own fame, talking of stars and exalted heights he uses the word ‘hid’. I’ve always wondered why he says this. Is he suggesting that he too would be hiding his true face? and that just as he sees her true beauty perhaps Yeats too wants to be seen and not to hide.

When you are old by WB 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.

The meaning of poetry

A poems meaning very much lies in the eyes of the beholder, or the reader. How I have interpreted it is how I see it, I am sure there are many other ways to see it. When I was writing this I purposefully didn’t read up on any other critical studies of Yeats poem as I didn’t want it to colour my reading of it.

And that is the most important thing about poetry. It is what we hear and see in it that matters. The enjoyment that you find in the words, in the imagery and feeling that a line can invoke is a very personal thing. Which is where the power of poetry lies, because it is so tightly bound to emotion and memory too.

Your Thoughts

Having said that I would love to hear your thoughts on ‘when you are old’ so please feel free to leave a comment on this blog post or get in touch on twitter @six0sixdesign

when you are old wb yeats poem irish poetry pencils