In this poem, the poet narrates how his beloved Maud Gonne would grow old with the passage of time. Her liveliness and youthful energy would vanish and she would pass the time dozing by the fireside as old people want to do. She would perhaps pick up the volume of the poet’s Collected Poems and slowly go through the verses wherein the poet has declared his love for her and admired her graces and charms. She would be reminded of the loveliness of her eyes that she once possessed and of their deep shadows. At that time, she might think that many young people loved her for her beauty and youth, but there was the only one whose love was sincere and genuine and it was certainly the poet himself. The poet loved her not for her physical beauty only but also loved for her soul. It was the poet among all others who could feel for her and love her because sorrow and suffering were depicted on her face.

. The perusal of the poet’s love poems would set his beloved thinking longingly of the past. She would then realize the worth and importance of the poet’s love. With the realization, she would mutter to herself with anguish that he was no more alive. He was dead and gone and his soul must either be hovering among the mountains or it must have become part of the galaxy of the stars overhead. The poem presents a portrait of decaying and dying youth and beauty. The poet has referred to it time and again quite passionately all through his poetic career. Maud Gonne, his beloved, was a proud and headstrong girl. The poem sounds a note of warning to her. The idea is that if she does not reciprocate his love, which is not merely physical, but spiritual too, she would have to repent for her folly in her old age. Her youth and beauty would wither and vanish one day, and lovers who hover around her, lured by her bloom, would desert her one by one. Then she would smart with a sense of remorseful agony for the cruelty and callousness towards the poet. The poet intends to forewarn her."

The poem has been written in three stanzas, each containing four lines. The rhyming pattern is very different and steady written in iambic pentameter, the first stanza is a b b a; the second is c d c d; the third is e f e f.

Questions and Answers

I. Answer the following questions in a word, a phrase or a sentence each.

Answer: The poet describes the period of youth as prized with physical charms, attractive eyes, pleasant feeling of love etc., while as it describes old age in terms of grey hairs, drowsiness, sorrow, and desolation.

Answer: The phrase ‘full of sleep’ has a symbolic meaning which means old age. It indicates the natural drowsiness that comes in human beings as one grows old and approaches death

Answer: The poet’s love stands different from those of the other lovers. Others loved his beloved for her soft looks, charming eyes, and physical beauty. The poet loved his beloved for her pilgrim soul and inner beauty. His love was spiritual, while others were sensual.

Answer: Maud Gonne is reminded of her youthful days when she was charming and energetic. She is also reminded of her only true love who would love her for her pilgrim soul. Others love was short-lived while the poet’s love was persistent.

Answer: The line describes that there was only one lover who loved Maud Gonne truly. He loved her for her inner beauty which did remain intact for the whole life. His love continued even when she becomes old and ugly while those whose love was false distanced themselves when her physical charms lived their days.

Answer: The poet uses the following images in the poem: grey hair, full of sleep, nodding by the fire, deep shadows of eyes, sorrow of changing face, glowing bars etc.

Answer: The poem is written in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme ABBA CDDC EFFE which gives a steady rhythm to the poem.

Answer: The poem infers that poetry lasts and remains as a constant reminder of what was. The speaker suggests that poetry has the ability to contain a man’s life in its lines and, in turn, to ensure that the life never dies.

Answer: The repetition of the ‘g’ sound suggests that it is an example of alliteration.

Answer: The soul of the spoken to is on a pilgrimage through life. It is in a state of constant movement and experience, with its ultimate destination, through death, being heaven.

Answer: Love is described as having a role of protector and guidance through life for the pilgrim soul.

Answer: To read the book of memories and remember her past, sitting by the fire.


II. Answer the following questions in a paragraph of 80 – 100 words each.

Answer: It is the Poet's love that is entirely different from the love exhibited by the other suitors. He admits that there are many suitors trying to court her but he knows for sure that their love for her is not genuine and sincere. He believes that they only love the elegance and beauty of her youth which is transient. On the other hand, the poet likes her inner self. He calls it her pilgrim soul. They will find her worth loving only when she is young and beautiful. But as she grows older, and her face shrunk, depicting the differences and sorrows faced by her, he will still continue to love her with all her sorrows as well. He does so because he is in love with her inner self and not merely with her physical beauty.

Answer: The speaker distinguishes his love from that of others by resorting to the depiction of the contrast between physical beauty and inner beauty. When his beloved was young and beautiful many suitors were after her-praising her external beauty without caring for her feelings. Their love was transitory whereas the speaker loved her pilgrim soul. He was the only one who cared for her, reciprocating (sharing) her feelings, her likes and dislikes. He loved even the sorrows of her changing face. Here, he has presented a real contrast between love and infatuation.

Answer: ‘When You Are Old', is a love poem written by W. B. Yeats. The poet addresses the lady, he loved in his youth. When she grows old, she will be sitting by the fireside and reading the book of poems written by him. Reading the book, she will remember her past, her beauty and the many men who admired her. While all the men loved her for her beauty, he loved her soul and her soul searches for something meaningful. She will feel sad that love has vanished along with him. He loved her for her internal beauty. His true love is permanent though her beauty has waned over the years.

Answer: The poet asks his love, who is still young, to imagine a time when she is past her prime youth. She would then be an old woman with grey hair and sleepy eyes. When she is in such a state, he wants her to read a book of memories from her youth. As the woman sits beside the fire, nodding her head and leaves through her memories, she would recollect the 'soft looks' she once had and the sorrows she had suffered until then. When she recalls her faded beauty she would also recall how she was admired by many suitors who were infatuated with her physical charms. At the same time, she would also recall how there was one man who loved her unique soul who was in search of true love. She would also realize that her true love has lingered on for a while, disappeared from the earth and hid amidst a crowd of stars in heaven.