For Yeats: When You are Old and Gray …

A few weeks ago, I posted “Distractions, failures? Yeats had them, too,” about my visit to the National Library of Ireland, and what I learned about William Butler Yeats while I was there.

Today is Yeats’ birthday, so to honor him and spread the joy I’ve had in reading his poetry, I’m sharing one of his poems.  This is one of my favorites, both for its theme and for its slow, ethereal beauty.

When You Are Old

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 among a crowd of stars.

Reprinted courtesy of

At times, when I’m having difficulty getting the words right or my writing isn’t flowing, poetry helps me break through.  It gives me the in.  I don’t know if it’s the beauty of the words or the lyrical flow, but it opens up that part of my brain that’s not so uptight and rigid, and it allows me to write.

Do you use poetry this way? Do you have any favorite poems that stir your creativity?  Please share them here.

To learn more about William Butler Yeats or read more of his poetry, please visit the Yeats Society.


6 thoughts on “For Yeats: When You are Old and Gray …

  1. This is also one of my favorite of Yeats’s poems. I used it as part of a wedding ceremony fourteen years ago this year.

    I use poetry to remind myself of the beauty that can be wrung from language. It acts as a spur to my own efforts (apart from the times Yeats or Dickinson plunge me into despair).

    Again, you choose a beautiful poem.

  2. Thanks Olivia… I like when writers post poems by the greats. I used to on my blog but haven’t in a while.

    Yes, I agree poems unleash the truly creative side in my brain. I love poems by Raymond Carver, especially for that…

  3. Yeats is one of my all-time favorites, too! With Irish ancestry and a love of History, Yeats was a key figure in my studies and life in general.
    The Lake Isle of Innisfree is my choice of Yeats’ works. My sister and brother-in-law brought me a gold-embossed copy from Ireland which hangs in our living room. I have a CD of his poems interpreted by artists such as Van Morrison but the real “hit” on this CD is a track of Yeats reciting the Innisfree poem–played it for my poetry group last week!
    –did not intend to write an essay but I love Yeats’ poems, Robert Frost too–see my blog last week at

  4. I’ve always liked this poem too Olivia. Thank you for sharing it.

    Yes, poetry does that for me too – gets the juices flowing, or, more likely, pointed in the right direction – when I feel “stuck”. My all time favorite is the one we used on our wedding programs: Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley. “…And the sunlight clasps the earth,
    And the moonbeams kiss the sea…” It’s simply beautiful.

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