YEATS’S ATTITUDE TO OLD AGE
One of Yeats’s concerns in his later poetry was old age and what it brought with it. Among other things, old age is seen as a symbol of the tyranny of time. At the same time rage against the limitations of age and society that is put upon an old man keep occurring again and again in his poetry.
One of Yeats’s personal poems, The Tower begins with these lines.
What shall I do with this absurdity?
O Heart, O troubled heart –this caricature.
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog’s tail
A few stanzas later in the same poem Yeats asks the rhetorical question.
Did all old men and women, rich and poor,
Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,
Whether in public or in secret rage
As I do now against old age?
The above lines from Yeats’s poems make it sufficiently clear that Yeats did detest old age. In the poem “The Tower” itself, he sees the fact of old age as a sort of battered kettle at the heel? In another poem, “Among School Children” , he sees himself as a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.
A powerful expression of Yeats’s anguish in the face of old age appears at the beginning of his famous poem “Sailing to Byzantium”.
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
Those dying generations—at their song.
In the next stanza he talks of the limited alternatives available to an old man, who, to Yeats is no more than a tattered coat upon a stick:
An aged man is but a paltry thing.
A tattered coat upon a stick. Unless,
Soul claps its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Many other poems talk of old age. In the poem, The Spur, Yeats wonders why people object to his retaining lust and rage even in old age. After all, they have always been the motivating force behind his poetry. In the poem “The Wild Old Wicked Men” Yeats says:
But a coarse old man am I,
I choose the second-best,
I forger it all a while
Upon a woman’s breast.
“In An Acre of Grass” Yeats claims that despite old age, he has a right to experience the whole of life, to “pierce the clouds or shake the dead in their shrouds”. In the poem, Politics, he laments the loss of his youth.
Then there is the poem “A Man Young and Old” Yeats’s nostalgia for the of youth is expressed.
Another poem which has a very suggestive title and talks of old age is “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad”.
Old age and what it brings with it are a recurring theme in Yeats’s poetry and they are responsible for some of the best and most poignant and passionate poetry that came for his pen.
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