'A Man Young And Old: I. First Love' by William Butler Yeats

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Though nurtured like the sailing moon
In beauty's murderous brood,
She walked awhile and blushed awhile
And on my pathway stood
Until I thought her body bore
A heart of flesh and blood.

But since I laid a hand thereon
And found a heart of stone
I have attempted many things
And not a thing is done,
For every hand is lunatic
That travels on the moon.

She smiled and that transfigured me
And left me but a lout,
Maundering here, and maundering there,
Emptier of thought
Than the heavenly circuit of its stars
When the moon sails out.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Man Young And Old: I. First Love by William Butler Yeats

An Introduction to a Classic Poem

Have you ever been in love? Have you ever felt the rush of emotions that come with falling head over heels for someone? If you have, then you will undoubtedly relate to William Butler Yeats' poem, "A Man Young and Old: I. First Love." This classic poem explores the complex and often turbulent emotions that come with falling in love for the first time. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deeper into the themes, motifs, and symbolism that make this poem so powerful and timeless.

The Theme of Love

The obvious theme of this poem is love. Yeats' speaker looks back on his younger days when he was first smitten with his beloved. The poem begins with the lines, "Though nurtured like the sailing moon/In beauty's murderous brood/She walked awhile and blushed awhile/And on my pathway stood/Until I thought her body/Soft as the pinks of fire/And then her thought behind her came,/And plucked her inward to inquire." The speaker is clearly entranced by this woman's beauty, and his emotions are described in vivid and sensual language.

However, as the poem progresses, we see that Yeats is not simply romanticizing love. He acknowledges the dark side of love as well. He writes, "When all the world had forsaken, / And left me to go my way alone, / It was her eyes that gave me light, / That led me straight to her throne." Here, Yeats is acknowledging that love can be a double-edged sword. It can bring immense joy and happiness, but it can also leave one feeling utterly alone and abandoned.

The Motifs of Nature and Time

Another prominent motif in this poem is that of nature. Yeats uses the imagery of the moon and the sea to describe his emotions. The moon is often associated with femininity and mystery, and in this poem, it represents the speaker's beloved. The sea, on the other hand, is often associated with chaos and unpredictability, and it represents the turbulent emotions of love.

Yeats also uses the motif of time to great effect in this poem. The speaker is looking back on his younger days when he first fell in love. He writes, "When I am old and gray 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 gave me, and their shadows deep." Here, Yeats is acknowledging that time is fleeting and that memories are all we have left as we grow older.

The Symbolism of the "Soft Look"

One of the most powerful symbols in this poem is the "soft look" that the speaker's beloved gives him. He writes, "And dream of the soft look/Your eyes had once gave me, and their shadows deep." This "soft look" represents the purity and innocence of first love. It is a symbol of the speaker's longing for a time when love was simple and uncomplicated.


In conclusion, "A Man Young and Old: I. First Love" is a powerful and timeless poem that explores the complex emotions of falling in love for the first time. Yeats uses vivid language and powerful imagery to convey the speaker's emotions, and he acknowledges both the joy and pain that come with love. The motifs of nature and time, as well as the symbol of the "soft look," add depth and complexity to the poem. Overall, this is a beautiful and moving poem that will resonate with anyone who has ever been in love.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

A Man Young And Old: I. First Love - A Poem of Nostalgia and Regret

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, is known for his profound and complex works that explore the themes of love, death, and the human condition. Among his many poems, A Man Young And Old: I. First Love stands out as a poignant and nostalgic reflection on the fleeting nature of youth and the bittersweet memories of first love.

In this poem, Yeats portrays an old man who looks back on his youth and remembers his first love with a mixture of longing and regret. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of the speaker's emotions and memories.

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, as the speaker describes himself as "a man young and old" who is "full of tears." This paradoxical description suggests that the speaker is both young and old at the same time, as he is filled with the emotions of his youth but also aware of the passage of time and the inevitability of aging. The tears that he sheds are a symbol of his nostalgia and regret, as he remembers the joys and sorrows of his past.

The second stanza focuses on the speaker's memories of his first love, whom he describes as "a young girl with a mind like a diamond." This simile suggests that the girl was intelligent and brilliant, but also hard and unyielding, like a precious gem. The speaker remembers how he was "mad with desire" for her, but also how he was "afraid" of her, as if he sensed that their love was doomed from the start. The image of the "cold white" moon in the sky reinforces this sense of distance and separation, as if the lovers were separated by an unbridgeable gap.

The third stanza brings the poem to a close, as the speaker reflects on the passage of time and the inevitability of death. He imagines himself as an old man, "gray with wisdom," who looks back on his youth with a mixture of regret and acceptance. He realizes that his first love was just a fleeting moment in his life, a memory that he will carry with him until the end. The final lines of the poem, "But I am old and you are young, / And I shall never more see you, / With your arms held out and the sun and the wind in your hair," are a poignant reminder of the transience of life and the power of memory to keep the past alive.

Overall, A Man Young And Old: I. First Love is a powerful and evocative poem that captures the essence of nostalgia and regret. Yeats uses vivid imagery and powerful language to convey the speaker's emotions and memories, and the result is a poem that resonates with readers of all ages. Whether we are young or old, we can all relate to the bittersweet memories of first love and the passage of time that makes them seem both distant and immediate.

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