When You are Old Poem Questions-Answers and Summary

When You are Old Poem Questions-Answers and Summary

When You Are Old by W.B.Yeats

“When You are Old” is a beautiful love lyric. The lyric was composed in October 1891, amid W.B.Yeat’s unverifiable association with Maud Gonne who was an Anglo-Irish progressive, women activist and on-screen character.

When You Are Old


The speaker of the lyric addresses his beloved saying that when she is matured she should read a specific book which will help her to remember her childhood. She will recall all the people who had cherished her elegance and her excellence with either true or false love before, and furthermore that exclusive who had adored her spirit unequivocally as she developed old and the manner in which she looked changed. As she is helped to remember him, she will lament her botched chance of intimate romance.

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In the initial two lines, the speaker pictures his beloved as “old, and grey and full of sleep”, “nodding by the fire”, taking down and reading “this” book, which most likely refers to the book that was to end up Countess Kathleen and Various Legends and Lyrics. The picture evoked is of a drowsy elderly person by the fire. The physical appearance of the lady is summarised by “grey”– her hair, eyes and skin have turned out to be lustreless and dull. The expression “full of sleep” proposes exhaustion, peace and her vicinity to death.

As she will read this book, she will remember the “soft look” and “the deep shadows” that her eyes had once had. Here the lyric gives us a glimpse of the lady’s childhood, proceeding to specify her “glade grace” which had stirred “true and false ” sentiments of adoration in her lovers. The words “sleep”, “slowly”, “soft”, “shadows” recommends a feeling of daze and stupor. The “shadows deep” brings out a feeling of the obscure and the mysterious, maybe inferring the quiet held by a man who has not encountered the harsh aspects of life or the attacks of time.

As she recollects this, she will also recall the man who had adored her for her “pilgrim soul” and the “sorrows of her changing face” as her childhood withered into old age. The “pilgrim soul” refers to the venturing soul, looking for devotion, travelling through life towards the last sign of death and salvation. The line also proposes the worship the speaker feels for the beloved. This man adored her truly and genuinely. The “one man” here refers to Yeats himself since the poem depends on Maud Gonne’s dismissal of him, and is autobiographical.

The lyric comes back to the time period of her old age and portrays her “bending down beside the glowing bars” and mumbling to herself a little tragically how “Love fled/And paced upon the mountains overhead/And hid his face in amid a crowd of stars”. The “glowing bars” allude to the mesh railings of Gonne’s hearth. The last lines appear to recommend Yeats’ sentimental grievousness, irritated and confused, yet accomplishing the extent of the universe in his emotions.

This poem makes a subtle difference between Maud Gonne, who having rejected genuine love has dwindled into pulled back home life while the speaker’s affection has turned out to be supreme because of his confidence in the poise of the Heavens. The complexity is built up through the disjunction between the “glowing bars” and “the crowd of stars”. Rather than throwing unpleasant claims at her for not restoring his affection, he makes a subtle announcement of his commitment.

The themes of the poem are love, misfortune and regret and albeit dependent on the artist’s very own life. The assessment reflected in this lyric is normal to most, if not every, rejected sweetheart.

When You are Old Poem Questions-Answers and Summary 1

About William Butler Yeats

W.B.Yeats was a vital twentieth-century Irish writer. He was a ground-breaking influence behind the Irish Literary Revival and also established the Abbey Theater along with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn. He filled in as its boss for quite a while and also promoted J.M. Synge, Sean O’ Casey and others. In 1923, he won the Noble Prize for Literature, which he viewed as “part of Europe’s welcome to the Free State”.

Yeats had proposed to Maud Gonne, a lovely, rich and brainy women activist, in 1891 and several times after that however had been rejected. He had also proposed to her daughter yet had been dismissed once more. Heat last wedded Georgie Hyde-Lees and had two kids with her – Anne and Michael.


The poem is written in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme ABBA CDDC EFFE which gives a steady rhythm to the poem. There is a use of alliteration in “glad grace” and “Love” is personified in the last stanza.

The repeated use of the word “and” in the first stanza gives a slow pace to poem, contributing to the stagnant atmosphere of the scene and the slow movements of the old woman, as she turns the pages of the book.

The literary devices in this poem are not very complex, as the poem flows smoothly by virtue of its simple rhyme scheme creating a sad reflective atmosphere which tones down the warning conveyed through the poem.


Q.No.1. How is the journey from youth to old age described in the poem?
Ans. The poet describes the period of youth as prised with physical charms, attractive eyes, pleasant feeling of love etc, while as it describes the old age in terms of grey hairs, drowsiness, sorrow, and desolation.

Q.No.2. What does the phrase full of sleep mean?
Ans. The phrase ‘ full of sleep’ has a symbolic meaning which means old age. It indicates the natural drowsiness that comes in human beings as one grows old and approaches death.

Q.No.3. How is the poet’s love different from those who also loved his beloved?
Ans. The poet’s love stands different from those of the other lovers. Others loved his beloved for her soft looks, charming eyes, and physical beauty. The poet loved his beloved for her pilgrim soul and inner beauty. His love was spiritual, while as others was sensual.

Q.No.4. What is Maud Gonne reminded of in the poem?
Ans. Maud Gonne is reminded of her youthful days when she was charming and energetic. She is also reminded of her only true love who would love her for her pilgrim soul. Others love was short-lived while as the poet’s love was persistent.

Q.No.5. ‘But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you’ Explain.
Ans. The line describes that there was only one lover who loved Maud Gonne truly. He loved her for her inner beauty which did remain intact for the whole life. His love continued even when she becomes old and ugly while as those whose love was false distanced themselves when her physical charms lived its days.

Q.no.6 Write a paragraph on emotions portrayed in the poem?
Ans. The writer possesses the best feelings of affection for his believed specifically Maud Gonne. But she never reacts his adoration. The poem ‘When You Are Old’ is an outflow of his serious emotions. It hits our heart with feeling.

The writer reminds his darling her energetic days when she was extremely lovely. She had alluring eyes and attractive hair. Many cherished her at that phase of life. But now she has been displayed as an old woman with grey hair and wrinkles all over. The writer turned into an extremely passionate and communicates her to recollect those occasions when she had an alluring body and was adored by numerous individuals. Some adored her with genuine notion while others cherished her physical body just. But there was one man namely the poet who had otherworldly sort of affection for her. This man cherishes her not in her energetic days but rather at each phase of her life. He adores her even when the distresses of old age mists her face and left their mark there.

The love poem paints the image of vanishing youth, dying excellence, and momentary nature of false love. The feelings depicted in the lyric contacts a portion of our most profound and most serious sentiments. This poem is loaded with feeling and energy. Yeats utilizes the word love in all lines in the second stanza and in the third stanza, a second line he capitalizes this word giving it so much power. That exhibit by, in light of the fact that it fled over the mountains and covers up in a horde of stars. That adoration goes up and high like if it is expanding, inaccessible and unapproachable.

It can also be seen as notwithstanding when he will be dead, his affection will be alive. Here, we see that he needs Gonne to know the size of his adoration for her. The creator exemplifies the affection in the lines “and paced upon the mountains overhead”, “and hid his face in the crowd of stars”. “Paced” appears to me like moving between various places without being steady and picking the correct thing or the perfect individual. We can also observe alliteration in the words “hid”, “his”. He sets up again the critical need that Maud picks him now.

I also observe as though nature assumes an essential job in his approach to express how unadulterated his adoration was for her. The creator will, in general, utilize these components of nature in a considerable lot of his verse like in the ballad ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ (1898).

I decipher the words “glowing bars” as the jail of adoration and figments or the excited obstructions to give and get love in light of the fact that the ideal opportunity for it will be left. This is found in the main line of the third stanza; “And bending down beside the glowing bars”. He’s begging her affection, twisting down and adjacent to each hindrance, which are her adoration and the other men, to let her know he is perseverant and has an unrestricted love for Maud Gonne.

Different pieces of information we found to achieve this end are that in the event that we set up together a few words that rhyme like “sleep” and “deep”, on the first stanza, we can see the picture of a dead individual. In the event that we do the same with words “grace”, “face”, on the second stanza, we envision and feel the magnificence; the same occurs when we set up together the words “true”and “you” on the second stanza as well, we can feel that it is the thing that he truly cherishes; the genuine you, the true self, Gonne’s spirit. Also, at long last, in the event that we set up together the words “fled” and “overhead”, on the third stanza, we have the symbolism, the sentiment of something that has left. This all demonstrates Yeats is giving her the subliminal command inside the unmistakable and direct message to cherish him now, that he is the special case who truly adores her and to not give time a chance to stroll against their satisfaction.


As we can find, Yeats unbelievably utilizes numerous components impeccable and harmoniously associated and concentrated into a short poem, for example, alliteration, immaculate metric, spondees, images and personification of affection to give her the correct message influencing to reach her change of mind and reciprocal love to him.

Q.No.7. What images does the poet use in the poem?
Ans. The poet uses following images in the poem: grey hair, full of sleep, nodding by the fire, deep shadows of eyes, sorrow of changing face, glowing bars etc.

Q.No.8. What is the rhyme scheme of the poem?
Ans. The poem is written in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme ABBA CDDC EFFE which gives a steady rhythm to the poem.

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Additional Questions

“When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats additional questions

1. What does the poem infer about the power of poetry and the written word?

The poem infers that poetry lasts and remains as a constant reminder of what was. The speaker suggests that poetry has the ability to contain a man’s life in its lines and, in turn, to ensure that the life never dies.

2. The term “glad grace” is an example of what literary device?

The repetition of the ‘g’ sound suggests that it is an example of alliteration.

3. In what ways is the soul, to the speaker, a “pilgrim”?

The soul of the spoken to is on a pilgrimage through life. It is in a state of constant movement and experience, with its ultimate destination, through death, being heaven.

4. By having love flee to join the “crowd of stars” overhead, what is the speaker suggesting is its role in life?

Love is described as having a role of protector and guidance through life for the pilgrim soul.

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