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What is the theme of "After Fifty Years" by William Faulkner?

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The poem "After Fifty Years" by William Faulkner tells the story of an old woman who is alone after growing old. After fifty years of living with others, the woman in the poem finds herself utterly alone. She has an empty house and an empty heart. As a result of her loneliness, she has become lost in dreams—mostly about young men she once knew and about her beauty during her youth.

Thematically, the poem centers around the idea of the passage of time. A thematic statement that might be derived from the poem could be: fixation on loss in the past can delude the mind into self-preserving behaviors. For the woman in the poem, she focuses too much on history, rather than moving on to find something new in her life. The poem describes her situation thus:

She rose in dreams from other dreams that lent
Her softness as she stood, crowned with soft hair.
And with his bound heart and his young eyes bent
And blind, he feels her presence like shed scent,
Holding him body and life within its snare.

She is too lost in dreams, thinking back to her youth when her hair was soft and she was beautiful. The "softness" that the poem focuses on is the natural softness of a young person, something that would have lent itself to both attracting young men and having fun. She also focuses on young men from the past who were interested in her; in this case, she has the memory of that young man trapped—forced to live with her in her old and decrepit form.

There are a few literary devices in the poem. When the poem says:

No one save her, for still she tries to weave
With blind bent fingers, nets that cannot hold.

This is a metaphor. The nets are metaphorical; rather than being real nets, they are "nets" of memory with which she is trying to catch hold of the things of the past, something that is impossible. Yet she still tries, and therefore no one can save her.

When the poem says:

Once all men's arms rose up to her, 'tis told,
And hovered like white birds for her caress

This is an example of simile when it compares the arms of the men to birds. They are constantly reaching out for her, like birds that hover and wait for a place to land. This also could be considered imagery, because it creates a vivid image in the mind of the reader about how her past life was lived. From this description, we can imagine the kind of attention she received from these men.

Finally, when the poem says:

A crown she could have had to bind each tress
Of hair, and her sweet arms the Witches' Gold.

The poem here is playing on the trope of a witch's enchantment. The "witches' gold" is her hair, and the implication is that her hair is so beautiful that it works a spell on whatever man might look at it. That is the reason that so many men fell in love with her: because of her great beauty. By comparing the beauty to a spell, it helps the reader understand precisely what she has lost in becoming old and gives some reason for why she is so obsessed with her dreams of the past.

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What are the themes in the poem "After Fifty Years" by William Faulkner? Please give an explanation and examples from the poem to support your ideas.

William Faulkner’s poem discusses the relationship between aging and love. Devotion or loyalty is a closely related theme, as the fifty years of the title probably refer to a relationship, such as a marriage, between a woman and a man. Another theme is sight, as he discusses both visual appearance and mental perceptions by using the word “blind.” As the woman has grown old and looks backward, the poet offers the theme of nostalgia. She remembers all the men who courted her but retains the vision of the one who was most devoted to her.

In addition to the time period elapsed that the title references, numerous points in the poem point to the passage of time. The woman is the primary character, and the idea that her beloved is no longer with her is suggested by the first line: the speaker mentions the woman’s empty house and her old heart. The theme of deception arises in the second line, which mentions “shades”—another word for “shadows” that can also mean “ghosts”—as things that “deceive.” The woman is trying to deceive herself, however, by believing that some important things are the same as in the past; this is part of the nostalgia theme. The speaker says literally that she is trying to weave, but these nets seem to be metaphorical in that they “cannot hold.” The speaker goes on to discuss her former attractiveness to men, which it seems she most nostalgic about. “All men” desired her “caress,” and she could have been the queen to as many men as there are hairs on her head, as in “a crown for each caress.”

In stanza 2, the perspective switches to anticipating the centrality of one of those suitors, who persists only in her imagination, symbolized by the “mirrors.” Rather than any royal crown, what endured was only the softness of her “soft hair.” She had successfully gained the devotion of just one man, apparently through deception: his “heart” was “bound,” and he was held within her “snare.” Now he is caught in the mirror, likely meaning that he is dead—one of the “shades” from stanza 1. That he is trapped in the mirror, or her memory, is indicated by his “young eyes” and that she “holds” his “body and life.”

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