Friday, March 10, 2006

The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water

William Butler Yeats


I heard the old, old men say,
'Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.'
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say
'All that's beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.'

Such a simple yet achingly beautiful poem. A poem that simply radiates sadness, that clutches at you like a gnarled hand. I love the rhythm of it, the weariness of tone created by the repetition of the word 'old', the marvellous use of rhyme to suggest a closing out, a surrender. But more than all that, I love the vividness of the image - Yeats' ability to create a portrait of these tired, defeated old men that has all the accuracy of a dream. This is a poem that cries out to be painted, or rather that does not need to be painted because you cannot read it without being able to see the painting that goes with it (I'm thinking El Greco here) as clearly as if it were right in front of you.


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