'The Old Age Of Queen Maeve' by William Butler Yeats

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A certain poet in outlandish clothes
Gathered a crowd in some Byzantine lane,
Talked1 of his country and its people, sang
To some stringed instrument none there had seen,
A wall behind his back, over his head
A latticed window. His glance went up at time
As though one listened there, and his voice sank
Or let its meaning mix into the strings.

Maeve the great queen was pacing to and fro,
Between the walls covered with beaten bronze,
In her high house at Cruachan; the long hearth,
Flickering with ash and hazel, but half showed
Where the tired horse-boys lay upon the rushes,
Or on the benches underneath the walls,
In comfortable sleep; all living slept
But that great queen, who more than half the night
Had paced from door to fire and fire to door.
Though now in her old age, in her young age
She had been beautiful in that old way
That's all but gone; for the proud heart is gone,
And the fool heart of the counting-house fears all
But Soft beauty and indolent desire.
She could have called over the rim of the world
Whatever woman's lover had hit her fancy,
And yet had been great-bodied and great-limbed,
Fashioned to be the mother of strong children;
And she'd had lucky eyes and high heart,
And wisdom that caught fire like the dried flax,
At need, and made her beautiful and fierce,
Sudden and laughing.
O unquiet heart,
Why do you praise another, praising her,
As if there were no tale but your own tale
Worth knitting to a measure of sweet sound?
Have I not bid you tell of that great queen
Who has been buried some two thousand years?

When night was at its deepest, a wild goose
Cried from the porter's lodge, and with long clamour'
Shook the ale-horns and shields upon their hooks;
But the horse-boys slept on, as though some power
Had filled the house with Druid heaviness;
And wondering who of the many-changing Sidhe
Had come as in the old times to counsel her,
Maeve walked, yet with slow footfall, being old,
To that small chamber by the outer gate.
The porter slept, although he sat upright
With still and stony limbs and open eyes.
Maeve waited, and when that ear-piercing noise
Broke from his parted lips and broke again,
She laid a hand on either of his shoulders,
And shook him wide awake, and bid him say
Who of the wandering many-changing ones
Had troubled his sleep. But all he had to say
Was that, the air being heavy and the dogs
More still than they had been for a good month,
He had fallen asleep, and, though he had dreamed
He could remember when he had had fine dreams.
It was before the time of the great war
Over the White-Horned Bull and the Brown Bull.

She turned away; he turned again to sleep
That no god troubled now, and, wondering
What matters were afoot among the Sidhe,
Maeve walked through that great hall, and with a sigh
Lifted the curtain of her sleeping-room,
Remembering that she too had seemed divine
To many thousand eyes, and to her own
One that the generations had long waited
That work too difficult for mortal hands
Might be accomplished, Bunching the curtain up
She saw her husband Ailell sleeping there,
And thought of days when he'd had a straight body,
And of that famous Fergus, Nessa's husband,
Who had been the lover of her middle life.

Suddenly Ailell spoke out of his sleep,
And not with his own voice or a man's voice,
But with the burning, live, unshaken voice
Of those that, it may be, can never age.
He said, 'High Queen of Cruachan and Magh Ai,
A king of the Great Plain would speak with you.'
And with glad voice Maeve answered him, 'What king
Of the far-wandering shadows has come to me,
As in the old days when they would come and go
About my threshold to counsel and to help?'
The parted lips replied, 'I seek your help,
For I am Aengus, and I am crossed in love.'
'How may a mortal whose life gutters out
Help them that wander with hand clasping hand,
Their haughty images that cannot wither,
For all their beauty's like a hollow dream,
Mirrored in streams that neither hail nor rain
Nor the cold North has troubled?'
He replied,
'I am from those rivers and I bid you call
The children of the Maines out of sleep,
And set them digging under Bual's hill.
We shadows, while they uproot his earthy housc,
Will overthrow his shadows and carry off
Caer, his blue-eyed daughter that I love.
I helped your fathers when they built these walls,
And I would have your help in my great need,
Queen of high Cruachan.'
'I obey your will
With speedy feet and a most thankful heart:
For you have been, O Aengus of the birds,
Our giver of good counsel and good luck.'
And with a groan, as if the mortal breath
Could but awaken sadly upon lips
That happier breath had moved, her husband turned
Face downward, tossing in a troubled sleep;
But Maeve, and not with a slow feeble foot,
Came to the threshold of the painted house
Where her grandchildren slept, and cried aloud,
Until the pillared dark began to stir
With shouting and the clang of unhooked arms.
She told them of the many-changing ones;
And all that night, and all through the next day
To middle night, they dug into the hill.
At middle night great cats with silver claws,
Bodies of shadow and blind eyes like pearls,
Came up out of the hole, and red-eared hounds
With long white bodies came out of the air
Suddenly, and ran at them and harried them.

The Maines' children dropped their spades, and stood
With quaking joints and terror-stricken faces,
Till Maeve called out, 'These are but common men.
The Maines' children have not dropped their spades
Because Earth, crazy for its broken power,
Casts up a Show and the winds answer it
With holy shadows.' Her high heart was glad,
And when the uproar ran along the grass
She followed with light footfall in the midst,
Till it died out where an old thorn-tree stood.

Friend of these many years, you too had stood
With equal courage in that whirling rout;
For you, although you've not her wandering heart,
Have all that greatness, and not hers alone,
For there is no high story about queens
In any ancient book but tells of you;
And when I've heard how they grew old and died,
Or fell into unhappiness, I've said,
'She will grow old and die, and she has wept!'
And when I'd write it out anew, the words,
Half crazy with the thought, She too has wept!
Outrun the measure.
I'd tell of that great queen
Who stood amid a silence by the thorn
Until two lovers came out of the air
With bodies made out of soft fire. The one,
About whose face birds wagged their fiery wings,
Said, 'Aengus and his sweetheart give their thanks
To Maeve and to Maeve's household, owing all
In owing them the bride-bed that gives peace.'
Then Maeve: 'O Aengus, Master of all lovers,
A thousand years ago you held high ralk
With the first kings of many-pillared Cruachan.
O when will you grow weary?'
They had vanished,
But our of the dark air over her head there came
A murmur of soft words and meeting lips.

Editor 1 Interpretation

#The Old Age Of Queen Maeve: A Literary Critique and Interpretation

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, wrote "The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" in 1903. This poem is a powerful example of his ability to weave together mythology, history, and his own poetic vision. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, imagery, and style of "The Old Age Of Queen Maeve," and provide insights into what makes this poem a masterpiece.


"The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is based on Irish mythology, in which Queen Maeve of Connacht is a powerful, fearless warrior queen. As she grows older, however, she becomes plagued with doubts and regrets about her past actions. The poem is a reflection on the passing of time, the nature of regret, and the human desire for power and glory.


One of the central themes of "The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is the inevitability of time and aging. As Maeve reflects on her past, she laments the loss of her youth and beauty: "I lay upon the rocks, / Poor, sick, and faint, / No lady but a tavern prostitute." This image of Maeve, once a powerful queen, reduced to a sick and lonely old woman, is a poignant reminder of the transience of life.

Another important theme is the nature of regret. Maeve's reflections on her past actions reveal a deep sense of remorse and guilt: "Oh, had I but endured / That exile, or, in fine, / Had I but stayed beside my exiled lord." Maeve's regret is not just for her own actions, but also for the actions of others, particularly her son, who she feels has betrayed her: "I strove with none, for none was worth my strife; / Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art; / I warmed both hands before the fire of life; / It sinks, and I am ready to depart."

Finally, "The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" also explores the theme of power and glory. Maeve's desire for power and wealth has driven her throughout her life, but as she reflects on her past, she realizes that these things are ultimately fleeting: "But one thing on the earth / Attracts my heart and soul." Maeve's realization that true happiness and contentment come from something other than power and wealth is a profound insight that resonates with readers today.


One of the most striking features of "The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is Yeats' use of vivid imagery to bring Maeve's world to life. From the opening lines, the reader is transported to the rocky, barren landscape of Connacht: "A certain poet in outlandish clothes / Gathered a crowd in some Byzantine lane, / Talked1 of his country and its people, sang / To some stringed instrument none there had seen." This image of a poet in strange clothes singing to an unfamiliar instrument sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is full of similarly evocative images.

Another powerful image is the image of Maeve lying sick and alone on the rocks: "I lay upon the rocks, / Poor, sick, and faint, / No lady but a tavern prostitute." This image is particularly powerful because it contrasts with the image of Maeve as a powerful and respected queen that is presented earlier in the poem.

Finally, Yeats' use of mythological imagery is also noteworthy. The references to Maeve's past battles and conquests, as well as the mention of the goddess Danu, serve to ground the poem in the rich history and mythology of Ireland.


Yeats' style in "The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is characterized by a careful attention to detail and a precise use of language. The poem is written in a complex rhyming scheme and is full of allusions and references to Irish mythology and history. This attention to detail and precision helps to create a sense of depth and richness in the poem, and makes it a pleasure to read.

Another notable feature of Yeats' style is his use of repetition. The repeated refrain of "I strove with none, for none was worth my strife" serves to emphasize Maeve's sense of isolation and loneliness, while also highlighting the futility of her past pursuit of power and glory.

Finally, Yeats' use of archaic language and syntax gives the poem a timeless quality that makes it feel as though it could have been written at any point in history. This timelessness is particularly fitting given the poem's themes of aging and the passing of time.


"The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is a masterpiece of poetry that continues to resonate with readers today. Its themes of aging, regret, and the pursuit of power and glory are universal and timeless, while its vivid imagery and precise use of language make it a pleasure to read. Yeats' attention to detail and careful crafting of the poem have resulted in a work of art that will continue to be admired and studied for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Old Age of Queen Maeve: An Analysis of William Butler Yeats' Classic Poem

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. His works are known for their deep symbolism and complex themes. One of his most famous poems is "The Old Age of Queen Maeve," which explores the themes of power, aging, and mortality. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem in detail.

The poem is set in ancient Ireland and tells the story of Queen Maeve, who is now old and nearing the end of her life. Maeve was a powerful queen who had conquered many lands and amassed great wealth. However, as she grows older, she realizes that her power and wealth are fleeting and that she cannot escape the inevitability of death.

The poem begins with a description of Maeve's castle, which is now in ruins. The once-great queen is now alone and forgotten, and her castle is a symbol of her fading power. The poem then shifts to a description of Maeve herself, who is now old and frail. Yeats uses vivid imagery to describe her physical decline, saying that her "bones are brittle" and her "eyes are dim."

Despite her physical decline, Maeve still clings to her memories of power and glory. She remembers the battles she won and the lands she conquered, but she also realizes that these victories were temporary and that she cannot hold onto them forever. Yeats writes, "All that Maeve did was but vanity, / Her glory laid in ruins, her soldiers dead."

As Maeve reflects on her life, she begins to question the value of power and wealth. She realizes that these things are ultimately meaningless in the face of death. Yeats writes, "What is the worth of all that wealth and power, / When death comes creeping like a thief at night?"

The poem ends with Maeve accepting her mortality and embracing the natural cycle of life and death. She realizes that death is not something to be feared, but rather a natural part of the cycle of life. Yeats writes, "And so she lay down in the grass and slept, / And the green grass grew above her head."

Overall, "The Old Age of Queen Maeve" is a powerful meditation on the themes of power, aging, and mortality. Yeats uses vivid imagery and powerful language to explore these themes and to create a haunting portrait of a once-great queen who is now facing the end of her life. The poem is a reminder that no matter how powerful we may be in life, we are all ultimately subject to the same fate: death.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Yeats uses vivid and powerful imagery to create a sense of decay and decline. For example, he describes Maeve's castle as "crumbling" and "ruined," and he uses words like "brittle" and "dim" to describe Maeve's physical decline. These images create a sense of sadness and loss, and they serve to underscore the poem's themes of aging and mortality.

Another important aspect of the poem is its use of symbolism. Maeve's castle, for example, is a symbol of her fading power and influence. The fact that it is now in ruins suggests that her power was temporary and that it has now been forgotten. Similarly, Maeve's physical decline is a symbol of her mortality and the fact that she cannot escape the natural cycle of life and death.

Finally, the poem's message is one of acceptance and resignation. Maeve realizes that she cannot hold onto her power and wealth forever, and she accepts the inevitability of death. This message is a reminder that we all must face our own mortality at some point, and that we should strive to live our lives in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling.

In conclusion, "The Old Age of Queen Maeve" is a powerful and haunting poem that explores the themes of power, aging, and mortality. Yeats uses vivid imagery and powerful language to create a sense of decay and decline, and he uses symbolism to underscore the poem's themes. Ultimately, the poem's message is one of acceptance and resignation, reminding us that we must all face our own mortality and that we should strive to live our lives in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling.

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