“When You Are Old” – W. B. Yeats poem + Wilco’s song “When You Wake Up Feeling Old” [Poetry Project – Volume 10]

Yeats, W.B.

Yeats, W.B (1865-1939). His are these famous words: “I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…”

When You Are Old

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

When you are old and grey 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.

* * * * *

Jeff Tweedy
“When You Wake Up Feeling Old” (Tweedy)

When you wake up
Feelin’ old
At this piano filled with souls
Some strange purse
Stuffed nervous with gold
Can you be where you want to be?Walk down any street
You can find
Look at any clock telling time
Sing some strange verse
From some strange song of vines
And you’ll be where you want to beI know I can’t sing
Until she brings the song to life
And I blend with kings
It’d never change a thing.Who knows anything
I don’t know?
There are so many things
I must leave alone.
Some strange person is calling you their home
Can you be where you want to be?

Previously on Awestruck Wanderer:

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“Afterwards”, a poem by Thomas Hardy [Precious Poetry – 8th Edition] – With comments by Joseph Brodsky

life-after-death
Afterwards

When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
“He was a man who used to notice such things”?

If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
“To him this must have been a familiar sight.”

If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, “He strove that such innocent creatures should come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone.”

If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at the door,
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
“He was one who had an eye for such mysteries”?

And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,
“He hears it not now, but used to notice such things”?

* * * * *

“Afterwards” was written around 1917, when Hardy was 77 years old. Joseph Brodsky, in his article “Wooing the Inanimate”, states that “the conceit in this poem is fairly simple: while considering his imminent passing, the poet produces cameo representations of each of the four seasons as his departure’s probable backdrop. Remarkably well served by its title and free of the emotional investment usually accompanying a poet when such prospects are entertained, the poem proceed at a pace of melancholy meditation – which is what Mr. Hardy, one images, wanted it to be.”

Brodsky backs up his claims about the poet’s melancholia by interpreting some of his verses as follows: “I tend to think that ‘an eyelid’s soundless blink’ is a reference to Petrarch’s ‘one life is shorter than an eyelid’s blink’; ‘Afterwards’, as we know, is a poem about one’s demise.” While the seasons drift and change, the poet feels his “tremulous stay” (an expression that can evoke a candle in the wind) and yet imagines what will happen when he’s gone: will others, witnessing the starry skies in winter, remember him and think: “He was one who had an eye for such mysteries?”

Brodsky also claims that “Thomas Hardy’s poetry makes considerable inroads into what is the target of all cognition: inanimate matter. Our species embarked on this quest long ago, rightly suspecting that we share our own cellular mix-up with the stuff, and that should the truth about the world exist, it’s bound to be nonhuman. (…) Come to think of it, the expression ‘matter-of-fact’ could well apply to his idiom, except that the emphasis would be on matter. His poems very often sound as if matter has acquired the power of speech…” (BRODSKY, On Grief and Reason, p. 366 and 374, Harper Collins, 1995)

ThomasHardy
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