What does the last stanza mean?"A Man Young and Old: XI. From Oedipus at Colonus" by William Butler Yeats Endure what life God gives and ask no longer span; Cease to remember the delights of...

What does the last stanza mean?

"A Man Young and Old: XI. From Oedipus at Colonus"

by William Butler Yeats

Endure what life God gives and ask no longer span;

Cease to remember the delights of youth, travel-wearied aged man;

Delight becomes death-longing if all longing else be vain.

 

Even from that delight memory treasures so,

Death, despair, division of families, all entanglements of mankind grow,

As that old wandering beggar and these God-hated children know.

 

In the long echoing street the laughing dancers throng,

The bride is carried to the bridegroom's chamber through torchlight and tumultuous song;

I celebrate the silent kiss that ends short life or long.

 

Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say;

Never to have drawn the breath of life, never to have looked into the eye of day;

The second best's a gay goodnight and quickly turn away.

 

Expert Answers
jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We live life and are told it's a grand, mysterious adventure.

But what if it really is just a tale told by an idiot that actually means nothing at all? It is what it is and then it's gone. What if it is but a veil of tears and then you die? What if life is just another of those vast myriad of things in the vast workings of a cold, indifferent universe... not about us or for us?

Certainly we have a stake in believing that it all has a purpose, a master plan that gives us some nobility and hope. But what if that's just our need to find a reason to go on?

So we have this Yeats poem about the wanderings of the tragic Oedipus. What has his life, in all its blindness, amounted to? Would he have been better off not to have suffered and not to have brought about so much suffering of others? Is it heresy to ask if it were better that he were not ever born at all?

Or perhaps the best life one could have is one lived by the female mayfly of the order Ephemeroptera. A gay, five-minute dance of life and then pfft, she's gone.