Aug 9, 2010
I hope this isn't too dreary a post for a Monday in the dog days of August, when we all might be feeling just a bit old and worn.
Maybe you remember "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," an early Yeats poem (an idyll?) that I posted here July 25, 2010. Yeats lived from 1865-1939, so he wrote in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as both a Victorian and modern poet. Most students of his work find the mature Yeats superior--tougher, more sinewy and more complex, as both thinker and craftsman.
However, I've heard quite a few people over the years mention with great fondness "When You Are Old." I'm adding "The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner" because, as an unheralded Yeats poem, it caught me by surprise when I was a young grad student. Although I'd never argue that it's the equal of "Sailing to Byzantium" or "The Second Coming," for example, I've never stopped liking "Lamentation." After two calmly plaintive stanzas, the surprise of the turn to hissing and impotent fury in the final two lines strike me as an honest urgency, desperation, earned bitterness. I still marvel that a young Yeats could be so convincing about old age, or that the poem spoke so forcefully to me as a young man.
Does that make it a better poem than the better known, more widely loved "When You Are Old"?
When You are Old- Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More
The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner, by William Butler Yeats