"When You Are Old And Gray And Full Of Sleep"

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Last Updated on December 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 165

Context: This poem is a loose paraphrase of the famous sonnet by Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) beginning "Quand vous serez bien vielle, au soir, à la chandelle . . ." Like Ronsard, Yeats describes an old woman sitting by the fire dreaming of her youth and of her beauty long since fled. Ronsard ends his sonnet with the admonition that since his beloved will one day be this old woman, with only her memories to cherish, she should not spurn his love today when it is offered. Yeats has a different ending: the beloved, when she is old, will read his poems and will understand that he alone loved her for her "pilgrim soul," that is, for the essential part of her, and she will remember ". . . how love fled." The first stanza follows:

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When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; . . .

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