Wb Yeats

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Written in 1893 and published in the poet’s collection The Rose, ‘When You Are Old’ is one of W.B. Yeats’ (1865-1939) most popular poems. As with many of his works, the poem is influenced by Greek Mythology. In this case, it is the legend of Helen of Troy, which inspires Yeats. ‘When You Are Old’ is believed to have been written for Maud Gonne, the love of Yeats’ life. It is based upon a much earlier poem by Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), which was part of the French poet’s ‘Sonnets for Helene'. The poem is three quatrains in length, has an ABBA rhyming scheme and is written in iambic pentameter. Through clever use of punctuation, and the repeated use of “and”, Yeats manipulates the pace of the poem and encourages the reader to slow down. The subsequent effect, therefore, lends itself to the slower pace of life that accompanies old age. ‘When You Are Old’ is narrated by an anonymous man, who is expressing his deep and undying love for a woman who has, thus far, rejected his advances. Although Yeats never makes direct reference to himself with the use of the first person singular, his use of allusion leaves little doubt as to who the “…one man…” may be. The first stanza, asks the woman to consider her future and what her life will be like when she reaches old age. He believes that she will no doubt reflect upon her youth and lost beauty. “…the soft look /Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep”. As alluded to above, it is the repeated use of “and” throughout this stanza, which sets the slow and very deliberate tempo of the poem. This slightly melancholic opening, is followed by a stanza, which asks the woman to view her current situation from the perspective of her future self, when she was “loved”. Interestingly, the word “loved” is used four times in this quatrain and implies that the many who “…loved your moments of glad grace,/And loved your beauty…” will cease to be enamoured with the passing years. In the last two lines of the second stanza, Yeats...
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