Topic : When You Are Old

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When You Are Old is a notable literary work by William Butler Yeats. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of When You Are Old.

main text

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. [...]

key facts

When You Are Old” is a famous Poem by William Butler Yeats. Look at the key facts of the poem to get a quick conception.

  • Writer: William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)
  • Title of the Author:  Irish poet, dramatist, writer, and politician
  • Full Title:  When You Are Old
  • Original Title: When You Are Old


W. B. Yeats had a beloved whom he loved dearly. It is more or less known to all of us that he loved his lover, but she did not care for him because she was a wonderful and popular woman at that time. He originally wrote this poem out of regret for not being noticed.

Here, he directly addresses his beloved Maud Gonne, saying that he loved her with all his heart, but she never accepted the poet's love and tried to understand him. When his beloved grows old, she will have none of this beauty. Her skin will become loose, and the brightness of the form will diminish. Those who love her today will not even look at her then.


The poem "When You Are Old" by William Butler Yeats mentions several important themes, including:

Time and Aging: The poem reveals the passage of time and the inevitability of ageing. It highlights the bittersweet nature of growing old and the significance of memories.

Love and Regret: The poem emphasises the complexities of love and the regret that can attend lost opportunities. It accentuates the idea that true love, which values the inner essence of a person, is often neglected or not fully appreciated.

literary devices

In "When You Are Old" by W.B. Yeats, literary devices enrich the poem's meaning and impact. Some significant literary devices in the poem include:

Imagery: The poem is rich in visual imagery, mainly depicting the person in their old age, sitting by the fire and reading. There is also a vivid image of Love fleeing and hiding among the stars. It contributes to the overall emotional tone of the poem.

Symbolism: It conveys a repository of emotions and nostalgia for the reader to reflect upon in their old age. The "crowd of stars" symbolizes the vastness of the universe and the idea that Love is now beyond reach.


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

Explanation: The speaker mentions the scene of an older adult reflecting on their youth in a state of repose. The instruction to "take down this book" reveals a reflective act, urging the person to reminisce.

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

Explanation: The speaker facilitates the person to recollect the tender and profound gaze they once contained, emphasizing the depth of their emotions and the intensity of their past experiences.


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