“When you are old” – A poem by William Butler Yeats

In this short post I wish to present a short poem by Irish poet and playwriter William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). He was born in Dublin and received an education in both Ireland and England. W.B Yeats rose to become one of the most prominent writers in the 20th Century. As the title goes old age and getting older is the main theme of this poem. Note the gently rhyme. It’s softspoken and calm. No storms. Getting older is associated with physical decay in this poem. It’s also a bit moralizing over Love. Take some time to figure out what goes on in the lines. There’s a narrator and a woman. What does he tell her?

When You Are Old

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.

Sources

wikipedia.org

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“To – ” : A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

IN THIS post I continue to try keep you interested in the life and poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). He’s a good representant of the Romantic era and his poetry is a proof of many common literary themes typical of this period. Some of these values are connected to the truth and beauty of nature, individualism, vivid imagination and strong feelings. The presence of nostalgia is also a sign of Romanticism as well as Gothic and the rise of “horror” as a theme in texts from this time.

Context and themes

Most likely the lines in “To -” are the result of an unfinished poem since it is a bit short. Surely, the message gets through anyway. It’s also been set into beautiful music. The Themes are love, anxiety, emotions, idolization of the beloved. Fear of rejection.

The Poem
(abt. 1818-1819)

I FEAR thy kisses, gentle maiden;
Thou needest not fear mine;
My spirit is too deeply laden
Ever to burthen thine.

I fear thy mien, thy tones, thy motion; 
Thou needest not fear mine;
Innocent is the heart’s devotion
With which I worship thine.

Sources

Wikipedia.org

“Bright Star” – A poem by John Keats

Context: This poem by John Keats (1795-1821) is fourteen lines long and is usually classified as a love poem. Surprisingly one most read through the very first eight lines before noticing that love is the major theme. It was written around 1819. It was officially published in 1838 in The Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal, 17 years after Keats’s death.

Themes: The poem addresses a “bright star” who is described as “steadfast”. In the rich field of metaphors and symbols the bright star could be either a personification or a star in the skies like Venus. In each case here the star in the poem is a representation of Love. Notice how Religion is present in the water with allusions to a sleepless Eremite with a priestly function. Pay attention on how everything takes on a more sensual tune in the lines: “Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”. It’s a bit sad Keats is about to stop because one is really curious what more could have happened if not “Death” had entered.

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

john-keats

Sources:

Wikipedia [various entries]

 

“To One in Paradise” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: The poemTo One in Paradise” (1833) is among Poe’s most well-known lines of lyric! It was first published without a title as part of the short story “The Visionary” (later renamed “The Assignation”). It evolved into “To Ianthe in Heaven” and then into “To One Beloved” before being named “To One in Paradise” in the February 25, 1843.

Themes: Take notice how the narrator in this poem presents the events in time and place. He has lost his love, she died. In the first lines he lingers on how beautiful everything was when she was alive. She was everything to him and he uses nature as a metaphor to describe her. Throughout the lines she is only known as ‘love’. But how well is she really described? She remains pretty anonymous to the reader. Is she really a person? Why does Poe bother to hide her personality? In the seventh line our narrator tells us “the dream was too bright to last” and that he clings to the past “mute” and “motionless”. Our narrator is mourning deeply – “The light of Life is over”. Just as in his most famous poem “The Raven” the famous words no more echoes three times. Only in the final lines we learn some of her characteristics, she had grey eyes and she keeps on dancing on eternal streams as the narrator continuous to dream in trances about her.

 Key words: Lost love, death, mourning, loss

To One in Paradise

Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

“To the Distant One” – A poem by Johann W. Goethe

Context: The German title of the poem is “An die Entfernte”, translated here as “The Distant One”. Written in 1788 and published one year later in Goethes Schriften. Achter Band, G. J. Göschen. 1789; it’s also known as one of Goethes famous Songes (Lieder) and Schubert made some nice music of it. This is my own very humble translation into English.

Themes: Love, obsession, lost love, unanswered love

 

To the Distant One

 

So, have I really lost you?

Are you, o Beautiful, flown away from me?

Still, it rings familiar in the ears

Every word, every tune.

 

Just as the walker’s eye in the morning

In vain pierces into the air

When hidden in the blue space

high above him the lark sings:

 

So pierces anxiously here and there,

Through field and bush and forest, my view:

For you all my songs sings,

O come, my beloved, back to me!


Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

The poem in German to be found here [wikisource]

Sonnet 130 – A poem by William Shakespeare

Context: William Shakespeare (1564-1616) needs no further introduction. This sonnet makes fun of the ideals of love. In the final sentence the narrator describes his love for the woman or “mistress” as something that is rare and wish not to compare her to other things associated with love. He’s also ironical. In the previous lines we read:  “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound”. Deeply influenced by the Petrarchan way of writing the perfect poem and the ideal Petrarchan woman in a poem is a goddess. Notice how Shakespeare play with this ideal. His woman, his mistress doesn’t fulfill the ideal. Pay attention to this line: “I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:”.

Themes: satire of conventional love, female beauty, irony

Words: dun = dull brownish gray; belied = misrepresented

SONNET 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

IMG_1039

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

“I loved you first” – A poem by Christina Rosetti

Context:  Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems. Her brother was the famous pre-rapahel painter Dante Rosetti. Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and father, who had her study religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. The influence of the work of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and other Italian writers filled the home and would have a deep impact on Rossetti’s later writing.

Themes: Love and becoming one with the one you love despite any other problem. The narrator isn’t foolish. Pay attention to the lines: “I loved and guessed at you, you construed me And loved me for what might or might not be – Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong. For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’” Take time to notice the words “free love” in the poem. What do you think it means? Pay attention to Rosetti’s own time and society. Her literary circle are the pre-Raphaelites. Who were they? And how did they define love? 

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I  loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.