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Home » , » Discuss Yeats's attitude to old age and youth as revealed in his poems
W.B. Yeats like many other poets noticed the contrast between youth and old age.  A young man is active and energetic and full of wonderful dreams. But an old man lacks vitality and energy, although he has desires like that of a young man. This problem of old age concerned Yeats very much even in his early years.  His earlier poem When You are old deals with this problem.  This rage and revolt against the limitations of old age occurs again and again in Yeats's poetry.  Sailing to Byzantium shows the passionate old man "sick with desire ".but he can no longer sing sensual songs.Here Yeats faces old age with the wish to forget his decaying body and educate his soul for immortality.  He makes it clear that the world of senses is not a fit place for an old man .In this world the young men and women are found in close  embrace,  birds in the trees ,singing out of the excitement of the mating season and fish like salmons and mackerel swimming in the waters of the seas and copulating as they move about .Thus fish , fish and fowl are all caught in the sensual urge of the generation which is only a process ending in death .In this universal pre-occupation with sex and complete inversion in the flux of life. They can spare no thought for those masterpieces of art which are the product of ageless intellect.

Under these circumstances an old man is scarcely a man. He is an empty artifice ,an effigy merely of a man ; he is "a tattered coat upon a stick".In such a situation the soul must clap its hands and sing,  and its songs must grow louder as the outer garment gets more and more tattered.  This means , if an old man can free himself from sensual passion , he may rejoice in the liberation of the soul ; he is admitted into the realm of the spirit, and his rejoicing will increase in accordance with his realization of the magnificence of the soul. But the soul can best earn its own greatness from the great works of art .That is why the poet turns to those great works of art , but in turning to them he finds that these are by no means mere effigies or monuments but things which have souls also. These live in the noblest element of God's holy fire free from all corruptions.So he prays for death, for release from his mortal body.Since the insouled monuments exhibit the possibility of the soul's existence in some other matter than flesh , he wishes reincarnation, not now in a mortal body, but in the immortal and changeless embodiment of art. Similarly the poems such as Among School Children,  The Wild Swans at Coole , A Dialogue of Self and Soul,  The Spur,  An Acre of Grass Speak of the problem of old age and youth.

To sum up,  W.B. Yeats sees old age as a time when the continuing vigour of the mind revolts against the increasing feebleness of the body.  On the one hand he seems to suggest that one should shake off the sensual desires in old age . On the other hand, he commends the value of desire and vigour of mind even if the body is decaying  , because in that lies the spirit of action and ability of man.


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