'The Grey Rock' by William Butler Yeats

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Poets with whom I learned my trade.
Companions of the Cheshire Cheese,
Here's an old story I've remade,
Imagining 'twould better please
Your cars than stories now in fashion,
Though you may think I waste my breath
Pretending that there can be passion
That has more life in it than death,
And though at bottling of your wine
Old wholesome Goban had no say;
The moral's yours because it's mine.

When cups went round at close of day --
Is not that how good stories run? --
The gods were sitting at the board
In their great house at Slievenamon.
They sang a drowsy song, Or snored,
For all were full of wine and meat.
The smoky torches made a glare
On metal Goban 'd hammered at,
On old deep silver rolling there
Or on somc still unemptied cup
That he, when frenzy stirred his thews,
Had hammered out on mountain top
To hold the sacred stuff he brews
That only gods may buy of him.

Now from that juice that made them wise
All those had lifted up the dim
Imaginations of their eyes,
For one that was like woman made
Before their sleepy eyelids ran
And trembling with her passion said,
'Come out and dig for a dead man,
Who's burrowing Somewhere in the ground
And mock him to his face and then
Hollo him on with horse and hound,
For he is the worst of all dead men.'

We should be dazed and terror-struck,
If we but saw in dreams that room,
Those wine-drenched eyes, and curse our luck
That empticd all our days to come.
I knew a woman none could please,
Because she dreamed when but a child
Of men and women made like these;
And after, when her blood ran wild,
Had ravelled her own story out,
And said, 'In two or in three years
I needs must marry some poor lout,'
And having said it, burst in tears.

Since, tavern comrades, you have died,
Maybe your images have stood,
Mere bone and muscle thrown aside,
Before that roomful or as good.
You had to face your ends when young -
'Twas wine or women, or some curse -
But never made a poorer song
That you might have a heavier purse,

Nor gave loud service to a cause
That you might have a troop of friends,
You kept the Muses' sterner laws,
And unrepenting faced your ends,
And therefore earned the right - and yet
Dowson and Johnson most I praise -
To troop with those the world's forgot,
And copy their proud steady gaze.

'The Danish troop was driven out
Between the dawn and dusk,' she said;
'Although the event was long in doubt.
Although the King of Ireland's dead
And half the kings, before sundown
All was accomplished.

'When this day
Murrough, the King of Ireland's son,
Foot after foot was giving way,
He and his best troops back to back
Had perished there, but the Danes ran,
Stricken with panic from the attack,
The shouting of an unseen man;
And being thankful Murrough found,
Led by a footsole dipped in blood
That had made prints upon the ground,
Where by old thorn-trees that man stood;
And though when he gazed here and there,
He had but gazed on thorn-trees, spoke,
"Who is the friend that seems but air
And yet could give so fine a stroke?"
Thereon a young man met his eye,
Who said, "Because she held me in
Her love, and would not have me die,
Rock-nurtured Aoife took a pin,
And pushing it into my shirt,
Promised that for a pin's sake
No man should see to do me hurt;
But there it's gone; I will not take
The fortune that had been my shame
Seeing, King's son, what wounds you have."
'Twas roundly spoke, but when night came
He had betrayed me to his grave,
For he and the King's son were dead.
I'd promised him two hundred years,
And when for all I'd done or said --
And these immortal eyes shed tears --
He claimed his country's need was most,
I'd saved his life, yet for the sake
Of a new friend he has turned a ghost.
What does he cate if my heart break?
I call for spade and horse and hound
That we may harry him.' Thereon
She cast herself upon the ground
And rent her clothes and made her moan:
'Why are they faithless when their might
Is from the holy shades that rove
The grey rock and the windy light?
Why should the faithfullest heart most love
The bitter sweetness of false faces?
Why must the lasting love what passes,
Why are the gods by men betrayed?'

But thereon every god stood up
With a slow smile and without sound,
And Stretching forth his arm and cup
To where she moaned upon the ground,
Suddenly drenched her to the skin;
And she with Goban's wine adrip,
No more remembering what had been.
Stared at the gods with laughing lip.

I have kept my faith, though faith was tried,
To that rock-born, rock-wandering foot,
And thc world's altered since you died,
And I am in no good repute
With the loud host before the sea,
That think sword-strokes were better meant
Than lover's music -- let that be,
So that the wandering foot's content.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Grey Rock: A Masterpiece of Symbolism and Allegory

As a poet, William Butler Yeats is renowned for his ability to weave intricate and meaningful symbolism into his works. "The Grey Rock," one of his lesser-known poems, is a prime example of this skill. In this poem, Yeats uses the image of a grey rock to explore themes of aging, mortality, and the passage of time. Through the use of allegory, Yeats creates a powerful and moving meditation on the human condition.

The Symbolism of the Grey Rock

At first glance, the grey rock in Yeats' poem might seem like a simple and mundane object. But as we dive deeper into the poem, we begin to see the layers of meaning that Yeats has imbued into this symbol. The grey rock is a representation of the human experience, a metaphor for the journey that every person must take through life.

The poem begins with the image of the grey rock sitting "on a grey day." This sets the tone for the melancholic and contemplative mood of the poem. The rock is described as "old and gray," suggesting that it has been around for a long time, perhaps even longer than human memory can recall. This reinforces the idea that the rock is a stand-in for the human experience, which has been ongoing for as long as humans have existed.

As the poem continues, we see the rock being eroded by the forces of nature. The rain and wind wear away at its surface, slowly chipping away at its solidity. This erosion is a metaphor for the passage of time and the inevitability of aging. Like the rock, every person is subject to the ravages of time, which slowly wear away at our bodies and minds.

Despite this erosion, the rock remains steadfast and unyielding. It "does not complain," even as it is battered and worn down over time. This stoic resilience is a reminder of the strength and resilience that humans can possess in the face of adversity. Even as we age and face the challenges of life, we can remain strong and steadfast, like the grey rock.

The Allegory of the Journey

In addition to its symbolism, "The Grey Rock" is also an allegory for the journey that every person must take through life. The rock represents the destination, the endpoint of the journey, while the surrounding landscape represents the path that we take to get there.

As the poem progresses, the landscape is described in vivid detail. We see the "wind-bitten furze," the "blasted heath," and the "unkempt grass." These images are meant to evoke a sense of barrenness and desolation, a reminder of the difficulties and challenges that we face on our journey through life.

Despite these hardships, the journey is not without its moments of beauty and wonder. The poem describes the "green flint-shivered larch" and the "golden-collared plover." These images represent the moments of joy and beauty that we can experience along the way, even in the midst of hardship.

But ultimately, the journey is about reaching the destination, the grey rock. This is where the true meaning of the poem comes into focus. The rock is described as "hard as hatred," a reminder that the journey through life can be difficult and painful.

But in the end, when we reach the grey rock, we find a sense of peace and acceptance. The poem ends with the lines "I shall have peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, / Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings." This image of peace dropping from the morning sky is a powerful symbol of the peace and acceptance that we can find at the end of our journey through life.


"The Grey Rock" is a masterpiece of symbolism and allegory. Through the image of the grey rock, Yeats explores the themes of aging, mortality, and the passage of time. The poem is a reminder that life is a journey, filled with challenges and hardships, but also with moments of beauty and wonder. And in the end, when we reach our destination, we can find a sense of peace and acceptance, like the peace that drops slowly from the veils of the morning. Yeats' poem is a powerful meditation on the human condition, and a testament to his skill as a poet.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Grey Rock: A Masterpiece of Symbolism and Metaphor

William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet and playwright, is known for his profound and complex works that explore the themes of love, death, and spirituality. Among his many masterpieces, The Grey Rock stands out as a remarkable example of his poetic genius. This poem, written in 1914, is a powerful meditation on the nature of reality, perception, and identity, expressed through a series of vivid and evocative images. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, symbols, and metaphors of The Grey Rock, and unravel the hidden meanings and messages that lie beneath its surface.

The Grey Rock is a short poem, consisting of only six stanzas, each containing four lines. However, despite its brevity, the poem is rich in meaning and significance. The first stanza sets the tone and establishes the central metaphor of the poem:

I saw a grey rock on a grey sea And wondered why the grey sea Had not engulfed the grey rock And made them one grey loneliness.

Here, the speaker describes a scene of a grey rock standing on a grey sea, and expresses his wonder at the fact that the sea has not swallowed the rock and merged them into a single entity. This image of the rock and the sea as separate but connected entities is the key metaphor of the poem, and it represents the duality of existence and the tension between unity and diversity. The grey rock symbolizes the individual self, while the grey sea represents the universal consciousness or the infinite void. The fact that the rock and the sea are both grey suggests that they share a common nature, and that their apparent differences are only superficial. The speaker's sense of wonder and curiosity reflects his desire to understand the relationship between the self and the universe, and to find a way to reconcile their apparent contradictions.

The second stanza deepens the metaphor and introduces a new symbol:

I saw that grey rock tremble From the grey depths of the sea Like the sudden clutch of a bird's claw That treads the sand and is gone.

Here, the speaker observes that the rock is not static or immutable, but rather, it is subject to the forces of the sea, which cause it to tremble and vibrate. This image of the trembling rock suggests that the self is not a fixed or isolated entity, but rather, it is constantly in flux and in interaction with its environment. The sudden clutch of a bird's claw symbolizes the fleeting nature of existence and the transience of all things. The bird's claw treads the sand and is gone, leaving no trace behind. Similarly, the self is a temporary manifestation of the universal consciousness, and it will eventually dissolve back into it, leaving no permanent mark.

The third stanza introduces a new theme and a new symbol:

I saw that grey rock turn To the grey of the dawn And the sun's first ray Creep over it like a song.

Here, the speaker observes that the rock changes its color from grey to the grey of the dawn, as the sun's first ray touches it. This image of the changing colors of the rock suggests that the self is not a fixed or static entity, but rather, it is shaped and influenced by its environment and its experiences. The sun's first ray creeping over the rock like a song symbolizes the transformative power of beauty and art, which can awaken the self to new possibilities and new perspectives. The dawn also represents a new beginning and a new hope, suggesting that the self can always renew itself and find new meaning in life.

The fourth stanza returns to the central metaphor and introduces a new symbol:

I saw the grey rock tremble From the grey depths of the sea And the salt foam of the wave Wash over it, and be gone.

Here, the speaker repeats the image of the trembling rock, but this time, he adds the symbol of the salt foam of the wave, which washes over the rock and then disappears. This image of the salt foam symbolizes the impermanence and the evanescence of all things, including the self. The self is like the salt foam, a temporary and fleeting manifestation of the universal consciousness, which will eventually dissolve back into it. The fact that the salt foam washes over the rock and then disappears also suggests that the self is not separate from its environment, but rather, it is part of it, and it is constantly in interaction with it.

The fifth stanza introduces a new theme and a new symbol:

I saw the grey rock stand In the grey of the evening And the moon's cold eye Gaze down upon it like a queen.

Here, the speaker observes that the rock stands in the grey of the evening, as the moon's cold eye gazes down upon it like a queen. This image of the moon as a queen symbolizes the feminine aspect of the universe, which is often associated with intuition, emotion, and mystery. The fact that the moon's eye is cold suggests that the feminine aspect of the universe is not necessarily warm or nurturing, but rather, it can be distant and aloof. The grey of the evening also suggests a sense of melancholy and nostalgia, as the day comes to an end and the night begins.

The sixth and final stanza concludes the poem with a powerful image:

I saw the grey rock break And the grey sea pour in like a tide And the grey sky break with a cry And the grey sea and the grey rock be one.

Here, the speaker describes the final dissolution of the self into the universal consciousness, as the grey rock breaks and the grey sea pours in like a tide. This image of the self merging with the universe suggests that the duality between the self and the universe is only an illusion, and that they are ultimately one and the same. The fact that the grey sky breaks with a cry suggests a sense of release and liberation, as the self finally lets go of its individual identity and merges with the infinite void. The final image of the grey sea and the grey rock being one suggests a sense of unity and harmony, as the self and the universe are reconciled and become one.

In conclusion, The Grey Rock is a masterpiece of symbolism and metaphor, which explores the themes of reality, perception, and identity in a profound and evocative way. Through its vivid and powerful images, the poem invites us to reflect on the nature of existence and the relationship between the self and the universe. The central metaphor of the grey rock and the grey sea represents the duality of existence and the tension between unity and diversity, while the various symbols of the trembling rock, the changing colors, the salt foam, the moon's eye, and the final dissolution, deepen and enrich the metaphor, and offer new insights into the nature of the self and the universe. The Grey Rock is a timeless work of art that continues to inspire and challenge readers to this day, and it is a testament to Yeats' poetic genius and his profound understanding of the human condition.

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