The Use of Metaphors and Imagery in When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats, “When You are Old”, is a three-stanza poem, that consists of a constant rhyming scheme. Yeats uses of metaphors paired sometimes with sets of poetic imagery. He exercises them well in the poem. They are significant, detailed, and well understood. Yeats illustrates one man’s genuine feelings, for what seems to be younger women. It takes place after; he was without the woman he loves and expressed what was forfeited by her. In the first stanza, it speaks of the future, “When you are old and grey and full of sleep” (Yeats, one)
As this metaphor is very detailed, it is easy to understand that he is talking about her being old, as you grow old you become more tired therefore full of sleep. In addition, Yeats is portraying that, come age, follows wisdom, and she will gain a deeper understanding of what she has forfeited. As Yeats illustrates the future he also illustrates the past within the last two lines of this stanza “And slowly read, and dream of the soft look // Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep” (Yeats, 3-4). In this case, the speaker wants her to feel, as if “what it was. ” In the sense that she used to have soft, beautiful eyes and what their love once depicted. The second stanza, keeping up the rhyme scheme, also has a significant amount of imagery in the stanza. Yeats uses imagery to show greater detail and importance to how the speaker feels. depicted in the past, how loved she was by many, “How many loved your moments of glad grace” (Yeats, 5).
There is significance to this as in lines after he goes on explaining himself, as what he loved was more special and more meaningful than the love others gave her. “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,” (Yeats, 7), as if the pilgrim soul she had, was something harder to acquire a love for. The speaker was also saying that even though she was losing her beauty, he “loved the sorrows of your changing face” This stanza gives a voice of guilt in a sense, about what she has missed out on in the past. She may have taken the love he had given for granted. Yeats uses his imagery in a wide range. Both perspectives of the speaker or man and the woman. The third stanza speaks of the future in the first person and third person.
At this point in the poem, is where she has finally grown old and withering away somewhere alone. At this point, the first person is relevant, as she is talking to herself about how love has been lost and she comes to realization, that love has fled, and because of her age and the circumstances, is not returning. “Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled” (Yeats, 10) This stanza consists of a significant amount of imagery used along with a metaphor. He utilizes the imagery to set the scene better, as well as give it more significance. “And paced upon the mountains overhead” (Yeats, 11). An excellent example of the imagery Yeats uses to include the extra depth to the poem. As the poem is all about love and how love has fled, there is something that stands out.
The poem’s essential point represents how the love has fled. As I had stated in the introduction. It seems that the man who has shown love for the attractive woman is older. The concluding line of the poem is an exceptional wrap-up. “And hid his face amid a crowd of stars” (Yeats, 12). It’s almost as if Yeats conveys you two images with this one line to end the poem. He shows it’s possible that even though he was hiding his face in sadness, I still feel the love may still be there as once you love someone with so much commitment, it doesn’t just go away. The man is overhead in the stars still watching over her with love even though she’s grown old and grey.
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