Friday, December 19, 2008

When You are Old
by W. B. Yeats (my favorite)

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.

by William Butler Yeats

I love the line "But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you. And loved the sorrows of your changing face." What a line. One of the best lines ever.

Sadly, like all great poets, Yeat's love was unrequited. He was enamored with a woman named Maud Gonne, who refused his many marriage proposals, saying, "You would not be happy with me. … You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry."

I think poor Yeats was 'the nice guy'. And Maud went on to marry the 'bad guys.' It's true, poets are most happy and productive wallowing in gloom. But even though sweet William never married his love, we will always remember his name, his words, his love. And we can not say the same for her husbands.

You can read more about Yeats at my favorite website The Writer's Almanac.


Lydia Russell said...

How beautiful.

Anonymous said...'s true for all artists, not just poets.

At least, that was the opinion of my printmaking professor, a famous Japanese woodcut and intaglio artist. I remember having the discussion with him one night when I was working on a piece in the studio. He claimed that you do your best work when you are miserable, when your heart is broken, when you are poor and struggling. To make good art, to make great art, you have to be able to live on that edge.