Charles Harper

Modern poetry 306


When You Are Old




At first glance I felt the poem more than I understood it. It accomplishes the modernist agenda to evoke emotion because you take notice of the sad mood first from the opening line; When you are old and grey and full of sleep, (1) It’s definitely is cool to hear it read out load. When read properly through the enjambment the poem takes a new life. Yeats tells a story in the poem about a woman who is reminiscing on a failed love by looking at her scrapbook;


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;(2-4)



I enjoyed it because it was so much packed into a small poem.  Depending on your make up it forces you into an uncomfortable place. Thinking about death is undermining to most of us so the poem is open to that interpretation. However it is just as adequate to say that it a poem showing youth to take opportunity while it is in front of you. I find it almost romantic in notion that another would care so much as to write for the sake of love that he himself would never experience.  This poem, like Eliot’s Prufrock, makes me wonder what about loss or missed love is special to the Modernist. What does it symbolize to them and why does it find its way into the subject matter of their poetry.