This is one of my favorite classic poems (which also happens to be written by an Irishman, appropriate since it’s St. Paddy’s Day as I’m scheduling this post!). I’m going to add a bit more to this post just because it is such a favorite.
William Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and, along with Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, and others, founded the Abbey Theatre, where he served as its chief during its early years. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature as the first Irishman so honoured for what the Nobel Committee described as “inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929). (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
W. B. Yeats spent most of his life besotted with the beautiful actress, Maud Gonne. Sadly for him it was an unrequited love because she did not return his feelings. She refused his offer of marriage several times, although they remained friends throughout their lives. (Ireland Calling)
This poem was written to Maud about the future when her fame and looks would fade and all those who loved her would desert her, while his own star as a poet would be rising and he would, in turn, walk among the stars. He wants her to know that while others professed to love her, it was only for her beauty, where as he loved her for her soul, for who she was.
When You Are Old
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.
Yeats — www.biography.com
Yeats and Gonne — http://ireland-calling.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Yeats-and-Gonne-When-you-are-old-WS1.jpg