The Meaning of When You Are Old By William Butler Yeats

The Background
"When You Are Old" is a poem written by William Butler Yeats in 1893. It got published in a collection of the poet’s poems captioned "The Rose". The poem has an element of Greek mythology in it. After a thourough analysis we have provided herewith the meaning of the poem When You are Old by William Butler Yeats.

The Structure
The poem is written in 3 quatrains with a definite rhyming scheme. It’s also written in iambic pentameter. The poet used conjunctions and other literary devices in slowing down the reading pace of the poem.

The Meaning
"When You Are Old" is very much influenced by Greek Mythology. It talks about the legend of Helen of Troy which got Yeats inspired. He actually wrote the poem for his lover, Maud Gonne. The speaker in the poem is an anonymous man who expresses his deep love for a lady that has been rejecting his advances. The man is ready to go the extra mile in loving the lady but she keeps rejecting his advances. From every indication, the anonymous man in the poem points to Yeats the poet.

The poem starts with a melancholic note. The speaker asks his lover to view her current condition and see herself from the perspective of the future. The speaker maintains that the woman’s beauty will fade as she gets old. He’s saying all these just to get her attention.

From all indication, the central theme of the poem is love. The poet tries to portray his love for a lady who has always rejected his advances. In the real life, many men go through the same situation. Some ladies keep rejecting men’s advances even when it’s clear that the men are deeply in love. Also you can hear the recitation of this poem here