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Last Updated on June 3, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606

This poem begins with the speaker’s musings on the “absurdity” of old age—while his body grows weaker and less able, his mind and artistic impulses grow more potent. He is worried that his newfound passion and zeal will appear odd to those around him when it manifests itself through his aging body.

The poem’s setting materializes, with the speaker standing on the top of a tower and looking down at a ruined house where a tree has begun growing. He drifts off into a series of memories about the people who once lived in the area.

Mrs. French was a rich lady who hosted lavish parties and who was one day presented with the ears of a local farmer by her servant, who had mistakenly assumed she had wanted them as punishment for the farmer’s insolence. Next, the speaker remembers a girl who he himself had not seen but whose legendary beauty long ago compelled men to go searching for her. Unfortunately, their enthusiasm caused them to behave carelessly, and one of their number fell into a bog and died.

The speaker comments on how interesting it is that the bard who wrote a song elegizing this girl had been blind. However, he then recalls that Homer, whose character Helen had influenced men in a similar way, had also been blind. The speaker-as-poet here reminds himself of the danger that his poetry might lead his readers into the same madness as Homer’s had done to his contemporaries.

The speaker continues by recalling Hanrahan, a character he had created twenty years previously who would wander, often drunkenly, from place to place. He elaborates on one incident in particular wherein Hanrahan was playing cards with some others in a barn. A juggler performed a trick with his cards, turning them into hounds and a hare, animals which Hanrahan then chased out of the barn to a location that the speaker does not recall. From this scene of relative jollity, the speaker proceeds to describe an unnamed man, perhaps symbolic of the man the speaker has feared becoming in his old age, who lived a lonely and melancholy existence, lacking the vibrancy to take pleasure in any aspect of life.

The poet wonders whether his concerns about growing old are universally shared by men and women throughout history, especially those who have crossed the landscape he is overlooking. He then turns his mind to thinking of the romantic interest on whom his imagination lingers, appealing to the memory of Hanrahan in particular, who knew much of romance and sexuality, to provide him with insight on this issue. He wonders if people dwell more on those they love and whose affections they have won or if they dwell more on those they have wooed without success. He asserts that people whose imaginations dwell on those they could not win have pride, too much subtlety, or perhaps a false conscience to blame for their failure.

The poet then goes on to discuss his will. He leaves both his pride and his faith to the upstanding young men of his time, who, in his mind, constitute all that is practical and meaningful. He asserts that the theoretical concerns of classical philosophy are of less value than the practical concerns of such men. His thoughts are interrupted by birds building a nest in a loop hole of the tower, a nest on which the mother bird sits. The poet concludes by deciding that despite his old age, he will educate his soul in such a way that it does not feel the effects of his body’s decline.

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