Wednesday Words 2.10.16


When You Are Old

William Butler Yeats

When you are old and gray 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.

Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

I guess this is my idea of a love poem? What can I say–I like ’em on the sad side. I don’t know why, but this poem haunted me in my younger years. I found it again looking for some Valentine poetry. If you’re in the market for some, I suggest this page from Poetry Foundation. A great mix of work.

I found this particular poem in the article “Poems to Send the Person You’re Crushing On.”I had great fun looking for just the right image. You can find images with a creative commons license here. Many of them allow you to remix or adapt the images. I’ve always been interested in the juxtaposition of word and image–the reason for this little Wednesday series.

So tell me:  What are your favorite love poems?

Photo: “Couple Walking Away on a Dirt Road” by simpleinsomnia via Flickr with a creative commons license.

10 thoughts on “Wednesday Words 2.10.16

  1. Gretchen says:

    It really doesn’t get better than Yeats, does it? I still remember how difficult it was to find non-cynical, non-tragic, but still actually good love poems to have read at our wedding. I was in grad school working on a phD in English at the time, so I felt like my honor was on the line and I had to get it right. I came up with Margaret Atwood’s “Habitation,” Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Love is not all” (and I had to make sure to tell our friend who was reading it to be very careful not to put any emphasis on the “think” in the final line), and Robert Penn Warren’s “Love Recognized.” Love Recognized is definitely my favorite of the bunch, and a line from it is engraved on our rings.

    • Rita says:

      So this is why I write a blog: I did not know any of those poems (and I was pretty well-acquainted with Millay in my earlier years). This is my kind of love poetry. These capture the complexity of love and all (well, at least most) of its contradictions. Sometimes I think love is just one big oxymoron. That some people can capture that in just a few lines? That’s why I love poetry.

  2. Marian says:

    I think Yeats must be a bit above me because I’m not quite sure I’m understanding the last stanza. What are the “glowing bars”?

    I’ve always been very moved by lasting love and companionship (and I love the photo you chose to illustrate this poem), but I have to say that the expression of love via poetry is not something I’m very fond of; in fact, I would go so far as to say it makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I’ve never been good at either giving or receiving what I would term “flowery affection”, and quite honestly, also have a hard time accepting words of appreciation (I tend to deflect those with sarcastic humour, so perhaps a jokey limerick about love would be fine!). I guess I’m the reverse of the stereotypical Mars/Venus-type woman — if it were a choice between having my husband write me a love poem or having him scrape the windshield on a snowy morning, I would take the windshield, and I would definitely feel that he loves me 😉 .
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    • Rita says:

      I don’t think anything is above you, at all. (Like Kathy said, I think the bars refer to the fireplace grate.) I’m not sure I fully understand the last stanza, either. Perhaps that is why this poem is one I’ve returned to many times: I don’t quite get it all yet.

      I think I am with you on expressions of love via poetry. Poems that are declarations of love don’t do much for me. Poems that are about the experience of love and relationship (such as the ones Gretchen shared in her comment) are the kind I am interested in. So, I think I’m pretty much with you: I’d rather have a scraped windshield than a flowery ode to my awesomeness. Your comment reminds me of things I’ve read about “love languages.” That all seems very Mars/Venus to me, which I don’t put a ton of stock in, but you might find it interesting. I sure think there’s a lot of validity to the idea that there are different ways of expressing love, and we all have preferences for particular ways, and it’s good to figure out which ways our partner prefers!

  3. Kathy says:

    I think the glowing bars refer back to the fireplace “you” are sitting near?

    And I agree with Marian – love poems are not my favorite. I like the red wheelbarrow, white chickens, I ate the plumbs you were saving kind of poetry with the occasional Wordsworth ( “trailing clouds of glory” ) Blake ( “little lamb who made thee” ) and Eliot ( “in the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo”). But my husband’s favorite poet is Pablo Neruda. I’d rather have those dishes washed ( not by me ) thank you very much!

    • Rita says:

      Oh, I think I’d wash some of my own dishes for a guy who likes Neruda! 😉

      What I remember appreciating about Williams when I discovered him was the way he turned ordinary life into poetry. I liked that his language and his images were plainspoken. I also very much appreciated that he was always something else other than a poet.

  4. Kate says:

    Neruda and ee cummings have always have a special place in my heart. It’s embarrassing to admit so I’m going to blame the fact that I was 21 and silly, but when Jesse and I first started dating I would read them to him – sitting in the front seat of his beat up pick up truck during my lunch break.

    Now that I’m a *real, true* grown up (and have a little better idea of what love looks like), I tend to agree with your above commenters and take my romance in the form of dishes, laundry, or the cleaned car.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, but that girl! That sweet girl. There’s got to be room in you for both the girl who read love poetry in the pick up and the one who sees the romance in a stack of folded laundry. (See, I’m revealing my own romantic notions here…)

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