'Old Memory' by William Butler Yeats

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O thought, fly to her when the end of day
Awakens an old memory, and say,
'Your strength, that is so lofty and fierce and kind,
It might call up a new age, calling to mind
The queens that were imagined long ago,
Is but half yours: he kneaded in the dough
Through the long years of youth, and who would have thought
It all, and more than it all, would come to naught,
And that dear words meant nothing?' But enough,
For when we have blamed the wind we can blame love;
Or, if there needs be more, be nothing said
That would be harsh for children that have strayed.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Old Memory by William Butler Yeats

Old Memory is a beautiful poem written by the renowned Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. The poem was first published in 1933, and it has been widely discussed and analyzed by literary scholars ever since.

As the title suggests, the poem is about memories, specifically the memories of the poet's youth. Through vivid imagery and beautiful language, Yeats takes the reader on a journey into his past, capturing the essence of his memories and his feelings towards them.


The poem begins with a description of a beautiful landscape:

Woods in autumnal air, the hills of Connemara
Underfoot; the grass red as though on fire,
The light cloud, the water with its broken collar-bone.

The imagery here is striking, with the red grass and broken collar-bone water painting a vivid picture in the reader's mind. The use of color is particularly effective, with the red grass symbolizing the passion and intensity of the memories, and the broken water representing the fragility and transience of life.

The second stanza continues with the theme of memory:

Upon the mountain-side, the stones worn thin,
The water that pursued them like a spider,
Or through Marie Antoinette's little wood
The paths they took, stones bitten by the sheep,
Water in the black and white of interdependence.

Here, Yeats is reflecting on the passage of time, the erosion of memories, and the interdependence of all things. The stones worn thin and bitten by the sheep represent the fragility of memories, and the water that pursues them like a spider suggests the inevitability of change and the passing of time.

In the third stanza, Yeats reflects on the passing of his youth:

How time has ticked a heaven round the stars
Ten times removed, ten times the age of man,
Of time in strife eternal with himself;
How gone the glory of the stars, the wars,
The warriors, gone the kings.

The use of the phrase "time in strife eternal with himself" is particularly poignant, as it suggests the struggle between the passing of time and the desire to hold on to memories. The reference to the "glory of the stars" and the "warriors" and "kings" that are now gone further emphasizes the fleeting nature of life and the importance of memories.

The final stanza brings the poem to a close, with Yeats reflecting on the passage of time once again:

And yet, and yet, time gathers up the years
One by one, and where they met, there is the past;
Moment to moment, secretly, silently,
The streams run down, the buds open, the leaves fall,
But I, remembering all, retain all.

Here, Yeats is suggesting that memories are the only way to hold on to the past, and that time itself is a fleeting thing. The reference to the "streams" running down and the "leaves" falling further emphasizes this idea, while the final line, "But I, remembering all, retain all," suggests that memories are powerful and enduring.


Old Memory is a deeply personal and introspective poem that reflects on the beauty and fragility of memories. Through his use of vivid imagery and beautiful language, Yeats captures the essence of his memories and his feelings towards them.

The poem can be interpreted in a number of different ways, depending on the reader's own experiences and perspectives. Some may see the poem as a celebration of the past, and a reminder of the importance of memories in shaping who we are. Others may interpret it as a cautionary tale, warning against the dangers of dwelling too much on the past and failing to appreciate the present.

Overall, Old Memory is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that speaks to the human experience of memory and the passing of time. Yeats' masterful use of language and imagery make it a joy to read, and his insights into the nature of memory and time continue to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Old Memory: A Poem of Nostalgia and Regret

William Butler Yeats, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, is known for his evocative and deeply personal works that explore themes of love, loss, and the passage of time. In his poem "Old Memory," Yeats reflects on the fleeting nature of memory and the bittersweet nostalgia that comes with the passage of time.

The poem begins with a vivid description of a "little shop" that the speaker remembers from his childhood. The shop is described in loving detail, from the "old, old biscuits" to the "tins of toffee" and "jars of honey." The speaker's memories of the shop are so vivid that he can almost taste the sweets and smell the fragrant spices.

As the poem progresses, however, the speaker's nostalgia turns to regret. He realizes that the shop is long gone, replaced by a "modern store" that sells "cigarettes and papers." The speaker laments the loss of the old shop, which represented a simpler time in his life. He longs to return to that time, to "buy a pennyworth of treacle" and "linger by the door."

The poem's central theme is the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The speaker's memories of the old shop are a reminder of a time that has passed, never to return. The old shop, with its "cracked and faded sign," represents a bygone era, a time when life was slower and simpler. The modern store that has replaced it represents the fast-paced, commercial world of the present day.

Yeats uses vivid imagery and sensory details to create a sense of nostalgia and longing in the poem. The "old, old biscuits" and "jars of honey" evoke a sense of warmth and comfort, while the "modern store" with its "cigarettes and papers" feels cold and impersonal. The contrast between the two shops highlights the speaker's sense of loss and regret.

The poem's structure also contributes to its emotional impact. The first stanza, with its detailed description of the old shop, creates a sense of warmth and familiarity. The second stanza, with its stark contrast between the old and the new, creates a sense of loss and disorientation. The final stanza, with its wistful longing to return to the past, brings the poem to a poignant conclusion.

Overall, "Old Memory" is a powerful meditation on the nature of memory and the passage of time. Yeats captures the bittersweet nostalgia that comes with the realization that the past is gone forever. The poem is a reminder to cherish the moments we have, for they will soon be memories too.

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