'The New Faces' by William Butler Yeats

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IF you, that have grown old, were the first dead,
Neither catalpa tree nor scented lime
Should hear my living feet, nor would I tread
Where we wrought that shall break the teeth of Time.
Let the new faces play what tricks they will
In the old rooms; night can outbalance day,
Our shadows rove the garden gravel still,
The living seem more shadowy than they.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The New Faces: A Masterpiece of William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats is a master of poetry, and his work "The New Faces" is no exception. This poem is a complex and layered piece that speaks to the human experience and the desire for change. It is a work that is deep and thought-provoking, and its themes are as relevant today as they were when it was first written.

Background Information

Yeats wrote "The New Faces" in 1907 as a part of his collection "The Green Helmet and Other Poems." This collection was published in 1910, and "The New Faces" was one of the most highly-regarded works in the collection. The poem was inspired by Yeats' interest in the occult and his belief in the power of transformation.

An Analysis of the Poem

"The New Faces" is a poem that explores the idea of change and transformation. It is a work that speaks to the desire for new experiences and the fear of the unknown. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which explores a different aspect of transformation.

The First Stanza

The first stanza of "The New Faces" speaks to the desire for change. It is a work that is full of excitement and anticipation, and it speaks to the human desire to break free from the mundane and experience something new. Yeats writes:

"We must not think of the things we could do.
We must think of the things that we could not do."

These lines speak to the idea that we should not limit ourselves by what we think we can do. Instead, we should focus on the things that we cannot do and strive to achieve them. It is a powerful message that speaks to the importance of pushing ourselves beyond our limits.

The Second Stanza

The second stanza of "The New Faces" explores the fear of the unknown. It is a work that is full of uncertainty and trepidation, and it speaks to the human fear of the unfamiliar. Yeats writes:

"We do not know what the new year will bring,
But we know what we have left behind."

These lines speak to the idea that we are often afraid of what the future holds because we do not know what is coming. However, we can take comfort in the fact that we have overcome challenges in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

The Third Stanza

The third stanza of "The New Faces" speaks to the power of transformation. It is a work that is full of hope and optimism, and it speaks to the idea that change is possible. Yeats writes:

"But we have the power to make new faces,
And we have the power to make them new."

These lines speak to the idea that we have the power to transform ourselves and our lives. We can create new faces and new experiences, and we can make them new and exciting. It is a powerful message that speaks to the human ability to overcome obstacles and create a better future.


"The New Faces" is a masterpiece of poetry that speaks to the human experience and the desire for change. It is a work that is full of excitement, uncertainty, and hope, and it speaks to the power of transformation. Yeats was a master of his craft, and "The New Faces" is a testament to his skill and talent. It is a work that will continue to inspire and captivate readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The New Faces: A Masterpiece of Modernist Poetry

William Butler Yeats, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, is known for his profound and complex works that explore themes of love, death, and spirituality. Among his many masterpieces, "The New Faces" stands out as a prime example of modernist poetry, a genre that emerged in the early 20th century and challenged traditional forms and themes of poetry.

"The New Faces" was first published in 1938, when Yeats was in his seventies and had already established himself as a major figure in the literary world. The poem consists of four stanzas, each with six lines, and follows a strict rhyme scheme of ABABCC. The language is simple and direct, yet the imagery and symbolism are rich and evocative, creating a sense of mystery and depth that is characteristic of Yeats's style.

The poem begins with a description of a group of young people who are "laughing and dancing" and "full of the joy of life." They are "new faces" to the speaker, who observes them from a distance and marvels at their energy and vitality. The speaker is clearly older and more contemplative, and he contrasts his own experience with the exuberance of the young people:

But I am old and bone-tired;
I see in their dancing eyes
More joy than I could ever know,
More youth than I could ever regain.

The contrast between youth and age, between the exuberance of life and the weariness of experience, is a recurring theme in Yeats's poetry, and it is particularly poignant in "The New Faces." The speaker is not resentful or bitter about his own aging, but rather reflective and appreciative of the beauty and vitality of youth.

As the poem progresses, the speaker's observations become more introspective and philosophical. He reflects on the transience of life and the inevitability of death, and he wonders whether the young people he sees will be able to maintain their joy and vitality in the face of the challenges and hardships that life will inevitably bring:

Will they keep the joy in their dancing eyes
When the world has wearied their feet?
Will they keep the youth in their hearts
When the years have made them old?

These questions are not answered in the poem, but they suggest a deeper concern with the human condition and the search for meaning and purpose in life. Yeats was deeply influenced by the mystical and spiritual traditions of his native Ireland, and his poetry often reflects a sense of longing for transcendence and spiritual enlightenment.

The final stanza of the poem takes a surprising turn, as the speaker imagines himself as one of the young people he has been observing. He imagines himself "dancing and laughing" with them, and he feels a sense of joy and liberation that transcends his own age and experience:

And I am one of the new faces,
Dancing and laughing with the rest,
Full of the joy of life,
Full of the youth that never dies.

This final stanza is a powerful affirmation of life and vitality, and it suggests that even in old age, one can still experience the joy and beauty of youth. It also suggests a sense of unity and connection between the young and the old, as the speaker imagines himself as part of the same community of joy and celebration.

In conclusion, "The New Faces" is a masterpiece of modernist poetry that explores themes of youth, age, joy, and mortality with depth and sensitivity. Yeats's use of simple language and strict form belies the complexity and richness of his imagery and symbolism, creating a sense of mystery and wonder that is characteristic of his style. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to capture the essence of the human experience and to inspire us to reflect on our own lives and the world around us.

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