Growing Old with Yeats

via Yeats Online Exhibition from the National Library of Ireland

In our literary exploration of the writers of Dublin, Yeats has been my favorite writer thus far. His poetics — particularly in his early poetry — evokes the natural beauty of Ireland, painting an idyllic Irish past in the countryside, a past that, fantastical or not, holds the imagination. Reading Yeats’s poetry made me want to explore beyond the bounds of Dublin as my imagination took to the countryside. Because I enjoyed the selection of Yeats poetry we read so much, I was excited to explore the Yeats Online Exhibition from the National Library of Ireland, a virtual museum tour that allows you to stroll through the rooms of the exhibition and view the manuscripts, paintings, and objects on display. 

A section of the exhibition I found particularly interesting was the “Growing Old” room. I found it particularly apt that the National Ireland of Library dedicated a part of the exhibition to “growing old,” — instead of naming it something like “later writing” or “late years” as this was such a preoccupation of Yeats’s own life and writing. Yeats’s later poems meditate on mortality and aging — his ambivalent relationship to mortality revealed strikingly in the lines “An aged man is but a paltry thing,/ A tattered coat upon a stick, unless/ Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/ For every tatter in its mortal dress,” in the poem “Sailing to Byzantium” — yet, as the exhibition reveals, in his personal life, Yeats tried to maintain as much vitality as possible, particularly through relationships with young women. It was interesting to see the divergences and similarities of the philosophies on aging and death Yeats explores in his poetry, and the way he attempted to deal with aging in his own life.

2 Comments

  1. I really like this, and your explanation as to why it’s called “Growing Old” rather than whatever else is so nice. That is really true and resonates well with the themes in a few of Yeats’s poems, and I think you did a really great job capturing the reason exactly. Yeats’s poems about mortality are definitely a favorite because of the “calm before the storm” tone and you can’t help but feel the awaiting doom through the writing. Interesting insight!

  2. I like they way you described Yeats’ relationship with mortality as ambivalent because that fits in so well with the themes we had discussed about Yeats. I think it is also interesting to note the fascination with religions that Yeats had especially considering many religions describe immortality as a characteristic of divine figures. And while he eventually had to face his own mortality and death, he certainly lives on through his many writings.

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