'A Woman Young And Old' by William Butler Yeats

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SHE hears me strike the board and say
That she is under ban
Of all good men and women,
Being mentioned with a man
That has the worst of all bad names;
And thereupon replies
That his hair is beautiful,
Cold as the March wind his eyes.


IF I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity's displayed:
I'm looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.
What if I look upon a man
As though on my beloved,
And my blood be cold the while
And my heart unmoved?
Why should he think me cruel
Or that he is betrayed?
I'd have him love the thing that was
Before the world was made.


I ADMIT the briar
Entangled in my hair
Did not injure me;
My blenching and trembling,
Nothing but dissembling,
Nothing but coquetry.
I long for truth, and yet
I cannot stay from that
My better self disowns,
For a man's attention
Brings such satisfaction
To the craving in my bones.
Brightness that I pull back
From the Zodiac,
Why those questioning eyes
That are fixed upon me?
What can they do but shun me
If empty night replies?


I DID the dragon's will until you came
Because I had fancied love a casual
Improvisation, or a settled game
That followed if I let the kerchief fall:
Those deeds were best that gave the minute wings
And heavenly music if they gave it wit;
And then you stood among the dragon-rings.
I mocked, being crazy, but you mastered it
And broke the chain and set my ankles free,
Saint George or else a pagan Perseus;
And now we stare astonished at the sea,
And a miraculous strange bird shrieks at us.



O BUT there is wisdom
In what the sages said;
But stretch that body for a while
And lay down that head
Till I have told the sages
Where man is comforted.
How could passion run so deep
Had I never thought
That the crime of being born
Blackens all our lot?
But where the crime's committed
The crime can be forgot.


THE lot of love is chosen.I learnt that much
Struggling for an image on the track
Of the whirling Zodiac.
Scarce did he my body touch,
Scarce sank he from the west
Or found a subtetranean rest
On the maternal midnight of my breast
Before I had marked him on his northern way,
And seemed to stand although in bed I lay.
I struggled with the horror of daybreak,
I chose it for my lot! If questioned on
My utmost pleasure with a man
By some new-married bride, I take
That stillness for a theme
Where his heart my heart did seem
And both adrift on the miraculous stream
Where -- wrote a learned astrologer --
The Zodiac is changed into a sphere.

i{He.} Dear, I must be gone
While night Shuts the eyes
Of the household spies;
That song announces dawn.
i{She.} No, night's bird and love's
Bids all true lovers rest,
While his loud song reproves
The murderous stealth of day.
i{He.} Daylight already flies
From mountain crest to crest
i{She.} That light is from the moom.
i{He.} That bird...
i{She.} Let him sing on,
I offer to love's play
My dark declivities.


DRY timber under that rich foliage,
At wine-dark midnight in the sacred wood,
Too old for a man's love I stood in rage
Imagining men.Imagining that I could
A greater with a lesser pang assuage
Or but to find if withered vein ran blood,
I tore my body that its wine might cover
Whatever could rccall the lip of lover.
And after that I held my fingers up,
Stared at the wine-dark nail, or dark that ran
Down every withered finger from the top;
But the dark changed to red, and torches shone,
And deafening music shook the leaves; a troop
Shouldered a litter with a wounded man,
Or smote upon the string and to the sound
Sang of the beast that gave the fatal wound.
All stately women moving to a song
With loosened hair or foreheads grief-distraught,
It seemed a Quattrocento painter's throng,
A thoughtless image of Mantegna's thought --
Why should they think that are for ever young?
Till suddenly in grief's contagion caught,
I stared upon his blood-bedabbled breast
And sang my malediction with the rest.
That thing all blood and mire, that beast-torn wreck,
Half turned and fixed a glazing eye on mine,
And, though love's bitter-sweet had all come back,
Those bodies from a picture or a coin
Nor saw my body fall nor heard it shriek,
Nor knew, drunken with singing as with wine,
That they had brought no fabulous symbol there
But my heart's victim and its torturer.


WHAT lively lad most pleasured me
Of all that with me lay?
I answer that I gave my soul
And loved in misery,
But had great pleasure with a lad
That I loved bodily.
Flinging from his arms I laughed
To think his passion such
He fancied that I gave a soul
Did but our bodies touch,
And laughed upon his breast to think
Beast gave beast as much.
I gave what other women gave
"That stepped out of their clothes.
But when this soul, its body off,
Naked to naked goes,
He it has found shall find therein
What none other knows,
And give his own and take his own
And rule in his own right;
And though it loved in misery
Close and cling so tight,
There's not a bird of day that dare
Extinguish that delight.


HIDDEN by old age awhile
In masker's cloak and hood,
Each hating what the other loved,
Face to face we stood:
"That I have met with such,' said he,
"Bodes me little good.'
"Let others boast their fill,' said I,
"But never dare to boast
That such as I had such a man
For lover in the past;
Say that of living men I hate
Such a man the most.'
'A loony'd boast of such a love,'
He in his rage declared:
But such as he for such as me --
Could we both discard
This beggarly habiliment --
Had found a sweeter word.


OVERCOME -- O bitter sweetness,
Inhabitant of the soft cheek of a girl --
The rich man and his affairs,
The fat flocks and the fields' fatness,
Mariners, rough harvesters;
Overcome Gods upon Parnassus;
Overcome the Empyrean; hurl
Heaven and Earth out of their places,
That in the Same calamity
Brother and brother, friend and friend,
Family and family,
City and city may contend,
By that great glory driven wild.
Pray I will and sing I must,
And yet I weep -- Oedipus' child
Descends into the loveless dust.

Editor 1 Interpretation


Poetry is a form of expression that allows the writer to delve into the deepest recesses of their soul and pour out their emotions on the page. William Butler Yeats is a master of this art form, and his collection of poems titled "A Woman Young and Old" is a testament to his skill.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will take a deep dive into Yeats' poetic world and explore the themes, imagery, and literary devices he uses to captivate his readers. So, grab a cup of tea, sit back, and let's explore the beauty of "A Woman Young and Old."

Background Information

Before we dive into Yeats' poetry, it's important to understand the context in which he wrote. Yeats was born in Ireland in 1865 and lived during a time of great political unrest. Ireland was under British rule, and there was a growing movement for Irish independence.

Yeats was deeply influenced by Irish mythology and folklore, and many of these themes are present in his poetry. Additionally, Yeats was deeply interested in the occult and mysticism, and this is also reflected in his work.

"A Woman Young and Old" was published in 1927 and is a collection of poems about women at different stages of life. The collection is divided into two sections: "A Woman Young" and "A Woman Old." In "A Woman Young," Yeats explores themes of youth, beauty, and love, while in "A Woman Old," he explores themes of aging, regret, and mortality.


A Woman Young

The first section of the collection, "A Woman Young," contains 22 poems that explore the beauty and passion of youth. Yeats uses vivid imagery and sensual language to capture the essence of young love and desire.

One of the most striking poems in this section is "A Mermaid." In this poem, Yeats compares a beautiful young woman to a mermaid, using powerful language to describe her beauty:

"A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown."

The use of the mermaid metaphor is powerful, as it suggests that the woman is both beautiful and dangerous. The lines "Pressed her body to his body, / Laughed; and plunging down" are particularly striking, as they suggest a sense of abandon and recklessness, as if the woman is willing to risk everything for the sake of passion.

In "A Dream of Death," Yeats explores the ephemeral nature of youth and beauty. The poem begins with the lines:

"I dreamed that one had died in a strange place
Near no accustomed hand,
And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
And planted cypress round."

These lines are haunting and evoke a sense of loneliness and despair. The use of the word "accustomed" suggests that this person died far from home, and the fact that the peasants are "wondering" suggests a sense of confusion and uncertainty.

As the poem continues, Yeats explores the idea that youth and beauty are fleeting, and that death is an inevitable part of life. The final lines of the poem are particularly powerful:

"Nor know I how long this lifeless thing,
With cypress draped for mourning,
Nor how long this that grew out of these limbs,
Can stand there without turning."

These lines suggest that even in death, there is a sense of movement and change. The fact that the "lifeless thing" can stand there without turning suggests a sense of stasis, but the fact that the cypress trees continue to grow and change suggests that life goes on, even in the face of death.

A Woman Old

The second section of the collection, "A Woman Old," contains 25 poems that explore the pain and regret of aging. Yeats uses powerful imagery and language to capture the sense of loss and mortality that comes with old age.

One of the most striking poems in this section is "The Collar-bone of a Hare." In this poem, Yeats compares the collar-bone of a hare to the fleeting nature of youth and beauty:

"Would I could cast a sail on the water
Where many a king has gone
And many a king's daughter,
And alight at the comely trees and the lawn,
The playing upon pipes and the dancing,
And learn that the best thing is
To change my loves while dancing
And pay but a kiss for a kiss."

These lines suggest a sense of longing and regret, as if the speaker wishes they could go back in time and experience the joy and passion of youth once again. The comparison to the collar-bone of a hare is particularly powerful, as it suggests that even the most beautiful and fleeting things in life will eventually fade and disappear.

In "A Last Confession," Yeats explores the idea that old age brings with it a sense of regret and sadness. The poem begins with the lines:

"What lively lad most pleasured me
Of all that with me lay?
I answer that I gave my soul
And loved in misery
But had great pleasure with a lad
That I loved bodily."

These lines are striking in their honesty and vulnerability. The fact that the speaker admits to loving "in misery" suggests a sense of regret and pain, as if they wish they could go back and make different choices.

As the poem continues, Yeats explores the idea that old age brings with it a sense of perspective and understanding. The final lines of the poem are particularly powerful:

"For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent."

These lines suggest that even in the face of pain and regret, there is a sense of wisdom and understanding that comes with age. The fact that nothing can be "sole or whole" without being "rent" suggests that even the most beautiful things in life are flawed and imperfect, but that it is through these imperfections that we find meaning and understanding.


In "A Woman Young and Old," Yeats explores the beauty and passion of youth, as well as the pain and regret of aging. Through powerful imagery and language, he captures the fleeting nature of youth and the inevitability of death, while also suggesting that there is wisdom and understanding that comes with age.

Overall, "A Woman Young and Old" is a beautiful and powerful collection of poems that speaks to the human experience in a profound and moving way. Yeats' use of language and imagery is masterful, and his exploration of themes such as love, regret, and mortality is both poignant and thought-provoking.

So, if you're looking for a collection of poems that will move you and leave you thinking long after you've finished reading, look no further than "A Woman Young and Old" by William Butler Yeats.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry is a form of art that has the power to evoke emotions, stir the soul, and inspire the mind. William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, was a master of this art form. His poem "A Woman Young and Old" is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the passage of time and the fleeting nature of youth.

The poem is divided into two parts, "A Woman Young" and "A Woman Old," each of which explores a different stage of life. In the first part, Yeats describes a young woman who is full of life and vitality. She is carefree and unburdened by the weight of the world. Her beauty is radiant and her spirit is free.

Yeats uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of this young woman. He describes her as having "bright hair" and "bright eyes," and he compares her to a "young beech-tree" that is "dancing in the wind." The imagery is both beautiful and evocative, capturing the essence of youth and vitality.

However, as the poem progresses, Yeats begins to introduce a sense of melancholy and sadness. He notes that the young woman's beauty is fleeting and that she will soon grow old and lose her youthful charm. He writes, "But all the while I her youth / And her untrammeled heart were mine; / Till recently I drew an iron tooth / To cut those brilliant locks of thine."

This passage is particularly poignant because it captures the bittersweet nature of youth. While youth is a time of great joy and freedom, it is also a time of impermanence and transience. The young woman's beauty and vitality will not last forever, and Yeats is acutely aware of this fact.

In the second part of the poem, "A Woman Old," Yeats explores the other end of the spectrum. He describes an old woman who has lived a long and full life. She is no longer young and beautiful, but she has gained wisdom and experience through the years.

Yeats uses stark imagery to describe the old woman. He writes, "Her eyes were dim, but they had not / Forgotten how the summers shone, / Nor all the flowers from every plot / That were in her youth." This passage captures the sense of nostalgia and longing that often accompanies old age. The old woman remembers the beauty and joy of her youth, but she also knows that those days are gone forever.

Despite the sadness and melancholy that permeates the poem, there is also a sense of hope and redemption. Yeats suggests that even in old age, there is still beauty and meaning to be found. He writes, "But now her voice grew soft and low, / And suddenly she seemed to be / A creature musical, akin / To Ariel and the things we know."

This passage is particularly powerful because it suggests that even in old age, there is still magic and wonder to be found. The old woman may no longer be young and beautiful, but she has gained a wisdom and grace that is just as valuable.

In conclusion, "A Woman Young and Old" is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the passage of time and the fleeting nature of youth. Yeats uses vivid imagery and powerful language to capture the essence of both youth and old age, and he suggests that even in old age, there is still beauty and meaning to be found. This poem is a testament to the power of poetry to evoke emotions, stir the soul, and inspire the mind.

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