'Friends' by William Butler Yeats

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Now must I these three praise --
Three women that have wrought
What joy is in my days:
One because no thought,
Nor those unpassing cares,
No, not in these fifteen
Many-times-troubled years,
Could ever come between
Mind and delighted mind;
And one because her hand
Had strength that could unbind
What none can understand,
What none can have and thrive,
Youth's dreamy load, till she
So changed me that I live
Labouring in ecstasy.
And what of her that took
All till my youth was gone
With scarce a pitying look?
How could I praise that one?
When day begins to break
I count my good and bad,
Being wakeful for her sake,
Remembering what she had,
What eagle look still shows,
While up from my heart's root
So great a sweetness flows
I shake from head to foot.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Friends by William Butler Yeats: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

"Friends" by William Butler Yeats is a poem that speaks about the importance of friendship in one's life. The poem is written in the form of a conversation between the speaker and his friend, as they discuss the nature of their friendship and the role it plays in their lives. Through this conversation, Yeats explores various themes such as the transience of life, the importance of memories, and the power of human connections.


The poem is divided into three stanzas, each consisting of four lines. The conversation between the speaker and his friend begins in the first stanza, where the speaker talks about the transience of life and the fleeting moments that they share together. He says, "I have met them at the close of the day / Coming with vivid faces / From counter or desk among grey / Eighteenth-century houses." The speaker is aware that their time together is limited, and he wants to make the most of it.

In the second stanza, the speaker talks about the memories that they have created together. He says, "I have passed with a nod of the head / Or polite meaningless words, / Or have lingered awhile and said / Polite meaningless words." The memories that they have created together are significant, but they are also fleeting. The speaker wants to hold on to these memories, but he knows that they will eventually fade away.

In the final stanza, the speaker talks about the power of their friendship. He says, "And I have known the eyes already, known them all— / The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, / And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, / When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall." The speaker is saying that their friendship is strong enough to withstand the test of time, even after they are gone.

Literary Devices

The poem is full of literary devices that enhance its meaning and message. The most notable device used in the poem is imagery. Yeats uses vivid and descriptive language to create images in the reader's mind. For example, he describes the friends as coming "with vivid faces / From counter or desk among grey / Eighteenth-century houses." This imagery helps the reader to imagine the scene and the people in it.

Another device used in the poem is repetition. The phrase "polite meaningless words" is repeated twice, emphasizing the idea that their conversations are polite but ultimately meaningless. The repetition of this phrase also highlights the speaker's desire for something more meaningful.

Alliteration is also used in the poem. For example, in the line "From counter or desk among grey," the repetition of the "c" and "d" sounds creates a sense of rhythm and melody.

Finally, the poem uses symbolism to convey its message. The "eyes" that the speaker talks about in the final stanza are a symbol for the memories and connections that they have created together. The fact that the speaker knows them "already" suggests that these memories are deep and meaningful.


The poem can be interpreted in several ways. At its core, it is a celebration of friendship and human connections. The poem recognizes that our time on earth is limited, and that the moments we share with others are precious. The speaker wants to make the most of these moments, and to hold on to the memories that they create.

Another interpretation of the poem is that it is a reflection on the nature of memory. The speaker acknowledges that memories are fleeting and that they eventually fade away. However, he also recognizes that some memories are more powerful than others, and that they can endure even after we are gone.

Finally, the poem can be interpreted as a commentary on the human condition. The speaker recognizes that we are all "sprawling on a pin" and that our lives are fragile and fleeting. However, he also recognizes the power of human connections and the importance of the relationships that we create.


"Friends" by William Butler Yeats is a powerful poem that celebrates the importance of friendship and human connections. Through vivid imagery, repetition, and symbolism, Yeats conveys a message that is both timeless and universal. The poem reminds us that our time on earth is limited, and that the moments we share with others are precious. It also reminds us that memories are important, and that some memories can endure even after we are gone. In the end, the poem is a testament to the power of human connections and the importance of the relationships that we create.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Friends by William Butler Yeats: A Poem of Love, Loss, and Nostalgia

William Butler Yeats is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, known for his evocative and mystical style. His poem "Friends" is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the nature of friendship, love, and the passage of time. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of this classic poem.

The poem begins with the speaker reminiscing about his youth and the friends he had in those days. He describes them as "young and gay," full of life and energy. The use of the word "gay" here is interesting, as it has taken on a different connotation in modern times. In Yeats' time, it simply meant happy or carefree. This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is nostalgic and wistful.

The second stanza introduces the theme of loss. The speaker notes that his friends have all gone their separate ways, and he is left alone. He describes the feeling of being "bereft of old companions," which is a powerful image. The word "bereft" suggests a sense of emptiness and sadness, and the phrase "old companions" emphasizes the length of time that has passed since the speaker was with his friends.

The third stanza is where the poem really begins to shine. The speaker describes a dream he had, in which he was reunited with his friends. He says that they were "all changed, changed utterly," which is a reference to Yeats' famous poem "Easter, 1916." In that poem, Yeats describes the Irish uprising against British rule, and the phrase "changed, changed utterly" refers to the transformation that took place in Ireland as a result of the rebellion. Here, the phrase takes on a different meaning. The speaker is not talking about a political revolution, but a personal one. His friends have all grown up and changed in ways that he cannot fully understand.

The fourth stanza is perhaps the most beautiful in the poem. The speaker describes the moment when he wakes up from his dream and realizes that his friends are gone. He says that he is left with "nothing but a grey twilight," which is a powerful image. The word "grey" suggests a sense of dullness and monotony, while "twilight" suggests a sense of fading light and the approach of darkness. This is a metaphor for the speaker's own life, which is now devoid of the brightness and energy that his friends once brought to it.

The final stanza brings the poem to a close with a sense of resignation. The speaker acknowledges that his friends are gone and that he cannot bring them back. He says that he will "sit and wait for them," which suggests a sense of patience and acceptance. The poem ends with the line "The years, the years, the years," which is repeated three times for emphasis. This is a reminder that time marches on, and that we cannot stop it or turn back the clock.

Overall, "Friends" is a beautiful and moving poem that captures the essence of friendship and the passage of time. Yeats' use of imagery and language is masterful, and the poem is a testament to his skill as a poet. The themes of love, loss, and nostalgia are universal, and the poem speaks to anyone who has ever had a close friend and lost touch with them over time. It is a reminder that even though we may grow apart from those we love, the memories of our time together will always be with us.

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