'Old Tom Again' by William Butler Yeats

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Things out of perfection sail,
And all their swelling canvas wear,
Nor shall the self-begotten fail
Though fantastic men suppose
Building-yard and stormy shore,
Winding-sheet and swaddling - clothes.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Exciting Literary Analysis of "Old Tom Again" by William Butler Yeats

As I opened the pages of William Butler Yeats' "Old Tom Again," I was transported to a different world. A world of a man who had lived a full life and was now reflecting on his past. Through Yeats' masterful use of language and imagery, the poem explores themes of memory, aging, and the passage of time.

The Setting and Characters

"Old Tom Again" is set in the Irish countryside, where Tom, the main character, lives. The opening lines of the poem capture the essence of the setting, with Yeats painting a vivid picture of the landscape:

Over the land there lies a long shadow, Westward reaching wings of light and shade, The west world glowing in a golden halo, Half its disc a blur of bronze played

As the poem progresses, we learn more about Tom. He is an old man who has lived a long life, and his physical and mental faculties are beginning to fade. He spends his days reminiscing about his past and reflecting on the passing of time.

Themes of Memory and Aging

One of the central themes of "Old Tom Again" is memory. Tom spends much of his time reflecting on his past, and the poem is filled with images of memories and the passage of time. For example, Yeats writes:

He hears the rooks above his head, He hears the harp upon the wind, And many a grouse and water-hen Are calling from the marshes dim

These images of birds and other animals evoke a sense of nostalgia and remind Tom of his youth. As he remembers his past, he is also aware of how much time has passed and how much he has aged:

And though he come to holy ends, Still all his thoughts run on the past, On youth and manhood and old age, On hawthorn bushes and meadow sage

These lines show that Tom is aware of his own mortality and is reflecting on his life as it comes to a close. He is grappling with the fact that he cannot turn back the clock and relive his youth.

Use of Imagery

One of Yeats' greatest strengths as a poet is his use of imagery. "Old Tom Again" is filled with vivid and evocative images that bring the poem to life. For example, he writes:

A field of cattle at the end, A waste of rippled sand, A hill-top where the sunsets blend Into the misty land

These images help to convey the sense of nostalgia and longing that permeates the poem. They also give the reader a glimpse into the world that Tom inhabits.


In conclusion, "Old Tom Again" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores themes of memory, aging, and the passage of time. Through Yeats' masterful use of language and imagery, we are transported to a world of an old man reflecting on his past. The poem is a reminder that our time on this earth is limited and that we should cherish the memories that we make along the way.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Old Tom Again: A Poem of Nostalgia and Reflection

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his lyrical and evocative works that explore themes of love, loss, and the human condition. One of his most beloved poems is "Old Tom Again," a nostalgic and reflective piece that captures the essence of a bygone era and the passing of time.

The poem begins with the speaker reminiscing about a time when he was a young boy, playing in the fields and listening to the stories of an old man named Tom. Tom was a simple man, a farmer who had lived his entire life in the same place, but he had a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that he shared with the young speaker.

The first stanza sets the scene and establishes the tone of the poem:

"Old Tom again, and the moon out, Old Tom again and his great white beard, And his little eyes that flicker about."

The repetition of "Old Tom again" creates a sense of familiarity and comfort, as if the speaker is returning to a place of safety and security. The moon, a symbol of time and change, is also present, reminding the speaker of the passing of years and the inevitability of aging.

In the second stanza, the speaker reflects on the stories that Tom used to tell him, tales of the supernatural and the mysterious:

"And the tales he told of marsh and bog, And the little people dancing in the fog, And the strange things that he said he saw."

Tom's stories were a source of wonder and enchantment for the young speaker, transporting him to a world of magic and imagination. But they were also tinged with a sense of danger and uncertainty, as if the supernatural forces that Tom spoke of were always lurking just beyond the edge of reality.

The third stanza shifts the focus to the present, as the speaker looks back on his own life and the changes that have taken place:

"But I am old, and the world is new, And the things I loved are lost to view, And the little people are gone, I fear."

The contrast between the speaker's youth and his current age is stark, as he realizes that the world he once knew has disappeared. The "little people" that Tom spoke of, symbols of the magical and the mysterious, have vanished, leaving only memories and nostalgia in their wake.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as the speaker returns to the image of Old Tom and the moon:

"Old Tom again, and the moon out, Old Tom again and his great white beard, And his little eyes that flicker about."

But this time, there is a sense of finality and acceptance, as the speaker acknowledges the passing of time and the inevitability of change. Old Tom and the moon are constants in a world that is always shifting and evolving, and the speaker finds solace in their familiar presence.

Overall, "Old Tom Again" is a poignant and evocative poem that captures the essence of nostalgia and reflection. Through the image of Old Tom and his stories, Yeats explores the themes of time, change, and the passing of generations, reminding us of the importance of cherishing the memories and traditions that connect us to our past.

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