Themes

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Last Updated on June 3, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 327

Human Mortality and Artistic Immortality

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Yeats writes about his old age being alien to him. His old body has been attached to his real self, who is creative and youthful. When he sees the foundations of a house that no longer exists, he remembers its old inhabitants, likely now dead, and he wonders if they, too, detested old age as he does. As a person nearing the end of his life, he decides he must write his will, but it is not a will in the traditional sense. Instead, he bequeaths his pride, his greatest possession, on the men around him who are free.

Connected to the idea of mortality is that of immortality. Nearing the end of his life, Yeats writes about what lasts and what does not. The rotted foundations of the old house have failed to stand the test of time. Instead, he says that what have lasted are "learned Italian things / And the proud stones of Greece." The wisdom of the ancients has therefore lasted as has his "poet's imaginings," or his poetry. In other words, art endures when other things do not. His works, such as the character he created called Hanrahan, will live on, giving him solace in that he is, in that sense, immortal.

Memories

Much of Yeats's poem is a recollection of events of the past. He recalls men singing in praise of the beauty of a fair country maiden, and he recalls that they were so moved by song that they lost their way, thinking night was day, and one even drowned in a bog in his transfixion. He has other memories of the past, such as the actions of a man who "clipped" a farmer's ears in service of a woman named Mrs. French. He wonders whether men recall more strongly the women they "won" or those they lost. As he nears the end of life, the memories of his youth are strong, though he knows they are fleeting.

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