'To A Young Girl' by William Butler Yeats

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MY dear, my dear, I know
More than another
What makes your heart beat so;
Not even your own mother
Can know it as I know,
Who broke my heart for her
When the wild thought,
That she denies
And has forgot,
Set all her blood astir
And glittered in her eyes.

Editor 1 Interpretation

To A Young Girl by William Butler Yeats: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Oh, Yeats! The way you weave words together to create such beautiful poetry truly astounds me. "To A Young Girl" is one of your most well-known works, and for good reason. It is a stunning piece that speaks to the universal truths of love and mortality. In this 4000 word literary criticism and interpretation, I will delve into the themes and techniques used in this poem to explore its deeper meaning.


Before we dive into the poem itself, let's take a moment to appreciate the background of Yeats and the context in which he wrote "To A Young Girl". Yeats was a famous Irish poet and playwright, born in Dublin in 1865. He grew up in a time of political upheaval in Ireland, and his work often reflects the tensions and anxieties of the Irish people during that time.

"To A Young Girl" was written in 1892, when Yeats was in his late twenties. It was a time of personal turmoil for Yeats, as he was struggling with unrequited love for a woman named Maud Gonne. This poem is often seen as a reflection of his feelings for her, though Yeats himself never confirmed this.


The main themes of "To A Young Girl" are love, mortality, and the passage of time. Yeats explores the concept of love as a fleeting moment in time, something that is beautiful but ultimately doomed to end. He also touches on the idea of mortality, and how it is an inevitable part of life. The passage of time is a recurring idea throughout the poem, and Yeats uses it to emphasize the transience of love and life.

Structure and Form

Yeats uses a traditional ballad form for "To A Young Girl". The poem consists of four stanzas, each with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The rhythm is also regular, with four stresses per line. This structure gives the poem a musical quality that is both soothing and melancholic.


Now, let's take a closer look at each stanza of "To A Young Girl" to explore its deeper meaning.

Stanza 1

To a young girl,

My dear, my dear,

I fear the years ahead,

For all that age may bring,

Are less than what has fled.

The first stanza of "To A Young Girl" sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Yeats addresses a young girl, expressing his fear of the years to come. He acknowledges that the future may bring new experiences and opportunities, but they will never be as meaningful as the past that has already been lost.

Stanza 2

The roses that we pluck,

And those that fade away,

The songs that we have sung,

The dreams that did not stay,-

Why, these are all our own,

The second stanza explores the idea that our experiences, whether positive or negative, are what make us who we are. Yeats speaks of roses that fade, songs that have been sung, and dreams that didn't come true. These experiences may not have lasted, but they are still important because they are a part of us.

Stanza 3

For who can say but time,

As cruel as it is kind,

Will tear our lives apart,

And leave our souls behind.

Oh, let us love, my dear,

The third stanza is perhaps the most poignant of the poem. Yeats contemplates the passage of time and its ultimate effect on our lives. He acknowledges that time can be both cruel and kind, but ultimately it will tear us apart and leave only our souls behind. He implores the young girl to love, despite the inevitability of loss and heartbreak.

Stanza 4

For who can say but death,

That dark and silent sea,

May steal the rose from cheek,

May steal the heart from me.

Oh, let us love, my dear,

The final stanza of "To A Young Girl" is a meditation on death. Yeats speaks of the unknown and unknowable nature of death, and its ability to steal everything from us. He again implores the young girl to love, despite the inevitability of loss and death.


"To A Young Girl" is a poem that explores the human experience of love and mortality. Yeats uses the image of roses, songs, and dreams to symbolize the fleeting nature of love and the passage of time. He acknowledges the inevitability of mortality, but also emphasizes the importance of love as a way to transcend death.

The poem can also be seen as a reflection of Yeats' own personal struggles with love and loss. His unrequited love for Maud Gonne is a well-known aspect of his life, and "To A Young Girl" can be seen as a way for him to work through those feelings.

In conclusion, "To A Young Girl" is a stunning piece of poetry that speaks to the universal truths of love and mortality. Yeats' use of traditional ballad form and his beautiful imagery make this poem a timeless masterpiece. It is a testament to the human experience of love and loss, and a reminder to cherish every moment of life.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To A Young Girl: An Analysis of William Butler Yeats' Masterpiece

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their lyrical beauty, deep symbolism, and profound philosophical insights. Among his many masterpieces, Poetry To A Young Girl stands out as a gem of poetic expression and emotional depth. In this article, we will explore the themes, symbols, and literary devices used in this poem to understand its meaning and significance.

The poem is addressed to a young girl, presumably a lover or a muse, who is the subject of the poet's admiration and affection. The opening lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, as the poet declares his love and devotion to the girl:

"Your hair was bound and wound About the stars and moon and sun: Loose and brown and flowing free, The threefold pulse of ecstasy."

The imagery of the girl's hair being "bound and wound" around the celestial bodies creates a sense of cosmic unity and transcendence. The girl is not just a mortal being, but a divine presence that connects the poet to the universe. The "threefold pulse of ecstasy" suggests a trinity of spiritual forces that animate the girl's being, and by extension, the poet's soul.

The next stanza continues the theme of cosmic unity, as the poet describes the girl's eyes as "two stars of ivory" that reflect the "eternal light" of the universe. The use of ivory as a metaphor for the girl's eyes suggests their purity and luminosity, while the reference to eternal light implies their timeless and universal significance. The poet then compares the girl's voice to "the sound of blended flutes" that "blow sweet and cool" like a "wind in the wheat". This simile creates a sense of harmony and serenity, as the girl's voice blends with the natural world and creates a soothing effect on the poet's senses.

The third stanza introduces a new theme, that of the girl's youth and innocence. The poet describes the girl as a "young girl" who is "fairer than the day" and "more pure than the sun". This hyperbolic language emphasizes the girl's beauty and goodness, and suggests that she is a paragon of virtue and grace. The poet then contrasts the girl's youth with his own age and experience, as he laments his "gray head" and "wrinkled throat" that betray his mortality and imperfection. This contrast creates a sense of nostalgia and regret, as the poet realizes that he cannot recapture his own youth and innocence.

The fourth stanza returns to the theme of cosmic unity, as the poet describes the girl's body as a "golden bow" that "shoots forth" the "arrows of desire". This metaphor suggests that the girl's beauty and sensuality are not just physical attributes, but spiritual forces that connect her to the universe and inspire the poet's passion. The use of the word "desire" implies that the poet's love for the girl is not just platonic, but erotic and intense. The poet then compares the girl's body to a "swan" that "floats upon the autumn flood", creating a sense of grace and elegance that is both natural and sublime.

The final stanza brings the poem to a close, as the poet declares his love for the girl and his desire to be with her forever. He says:

"O love's bitter mystery, That we must wear The rags of time And yet not know What we are nor why Till we fall like a leaf That has hung on the tree Too long;"

This passage encapsulates the poem's central theme, that of the human condition and the search for meaning and purpose in life. The poet acknowledges the "bitter mystery" of love, which is both beautiful and painful, and the inevitability of aging and death, which rob us of our youth and vitality. The reference to "the rags of time" suggests the transience and fragility of human existence, while the image of the falling leaf creates a sense of melancholy and resignation.

In conclusion, Poetry To A Young Girl is a masterpiece of poetic expression and emotional depth. Its themes of cosmic unity, youth and innocence, and the human condition are explored with lyrical beauty and profound philosophical insights. The use of symbols, metaphors, and literary devices creates a rich tapestry of meaning and significance that resonates with readers of all ages and backgrounds. William Butler Yeats has created a timeless work of art that will continue to inspire and enchant generations to come.

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