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.”