When You Are Old is a bitter sweet poem written by W B Yeats for the actress Maud Gonne. Gonne was one of the great beauties of 19th century Ireland. Yeats fell madly in love with her and although she was happy to be his friend, she rejected his offer of marriage several times.
Yeats refers to Gonne in several of his poems. In When You Are Old he invites her to look into the future and imagine what her feelings might be when her looks have faded and Yeats is no longer doting upon her.
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.
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