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

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i{A certain poet in outlandish clothes}
i{Gathered a crowd in some Byzantine lane,}
i{Talked1 of his country and its people, sang}
i{To some stringed instrument none there had seen,}
i{A wall behind his back, over his head}
i{A latticed window.His glance went up at time}
i{As though one listened there, and his voice sank}
i{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 Masterpiece by Yeats

Have you ever read a poem that left you in awe? A poem that engulfs you with its mesmerizing language, depth of meaning, and profound thoughts? If not, you should definitely read William Butler Yeats' "The Old Age Of Queen Maeve". This magnificent piece of art is a fine example of Yeats' poetic genius, and the depth of his understanding of Irish mythology.

Background and Context

"The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is a poem based on Irish mythology, which tells the story of Queen Maeve's quest for the bull of Cooley. The bull is considered a symbol of masculinity and power, and Maeve's desire to possess it represents her relentless pursuit of power and dominance. The poem is a deep exploration of human nature, and the consequences of our actions.

Yeats was fascinated by Irish mythology and folklore, and he drew inspiration from it for most of his work. His poetry is a reflection of his love for Ireland and his desire to revive its cultural heritage. He believed that Irish mythology held the key to understanding the Irish psyche, and he used it to create a body of work that is both powerful and enduring.

Form and Structure

"The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is a long poem consisting of sixty-four stanzas, each containing four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic tetrameter. The poem is written in the third person, and the narrator describes the events of the story from a neutral perspective.

The poem is divided into two parts - the first part tells the story of Maeve's quest, while the second part reflects on the consequences of her actions. The transition between the two parts is marked by a change in tone and style. The first part is more adventurous and fast-paced, while the second part is more reflective and philosophical.

Themes and Interpretation

"The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is a rich and complex poem that explores several themes. The most prominent themes are power, desire, and the consequences of our actions.

Throughout the poem, we see Maeve's relentless pursuit of power and dominance. Her desire to possess the bull of Cooley is a symbol of her insatiable hunger for power. She is willing to do anything to get what she wants, even if it means sacrificing the lives of her soldiers. Her actions reflect the darker side of human nature, and the corrupting influence of power.

The consequences of Maeve's actions are also explored in the poem. As she moves closer to her goal, she becomes more ruthless and cruel. Her soldiers pay the price for her ambition, and their deaths haunt her in the end. The consequences of our actions are not always obvious, and the poem serves as a warning against the dangers of blind ambition.

Another theme that is explored in the poem is the role of women in society. Maeve is a powerful queen, but her power is always questioned and challenged. She is portrayed as a woman who is constantly fighting for her place in a male-dominated world. Her character reflects the struggles of women throughout history, and the poem celebrates their strength and resilience.

Language and Imagery

"The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is a masterclass in poetic language and imagery. Yeats' use of language is both beautiful and profound, and his imagery is vivid and evocative.

The language of the poem is rich and musical, with a rhythm that is both soothing and mesmerizing. The use of repetition and alliteration creates a sense of unity and harmony, and the rhyme scheme adds to the musicality of the poem.

The imagery in the poem is also stunning. Yeats uses vivid and evocative descriptions to bring the story to life. The landscape of Ireland is described in detail, with its hills, valleys, and rivers. The battle scenes are also described with great detail, creating a sense of tension and drama.


"The Old Age Of Queen Maeve" is a masterpiece of Irish poetry, and a testament to Yeats' poetic genius. It is a poem that is both beautiful and profound, and it explores some of the most important themes of human existence.

The poem is a reflection of Yeats' love for Ireland and its cultural heritage, and it stands as a symbol of the power of poetry to capture the essence of a people and a culture. If you haven't read it yet, do yourself a favor and read it now. You won't be disappointed.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Old Age of Queen Maeve: A Masterpiece of Irish Poetry

William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, was a master of the art of storytelling. His works are known for their vivid imagery, rich symbolism, and deep philosophical insights. Among his many masterpieces, The Old Age of Queen Maeve stands out as a shining example of his poetic genius.

The Old Age of Queen Maeve is a long narrative poem that tells the story of the legendary Irish queen Maeve, who ruled over the province of Connacht in the early days of Ireland. The poem is divided into six parts, each of which describes a different episode in Maeve's life. Through these episodes, Yeats explores themes of power, love, betrayal, and mortality, and creates a vivid portrait of a complex and fascinating character.

The first part of the poem introduces Maeve as a powerful and ambitious queen who is determined to increase her wealth and status. She sets her sights on the famous bull of Cooley, a magnificent animal that belongs to her rival, the king of Ulster. Maeve gathers a great army and sets out to capture the bull, but she soon realizes that her quest will not be easy. The Ulstermen are fierce warriors, and they are led by the legendary hero Cuchulain, who is almost invincible in battle.

In the second part of the poem, Maeve meets a young warrior named Fergus, who was once a loyal servant of the Ulster king but has now joined her cause. Fergus tells Maeve that he knows a secret way to defeat Cuchulain, but it involves a terrible sacrifice. Maeve agrees to the plan, and Fergus leads her army to a narrow pass where Cuchulain is waiting for them. Fergus challenges Cuchulain to a duel, but he secretly tells him to let Maeve's army pass through the pass unharmed. Cuchulain agrees, but only on the condition that Fergus will return the favor someday.

The third part of the poem describes Maeve's encounter with a young warrior named Ferdia, who is Cuchulain's best friend and ally. Maeve offers Ferdia great riches and honors if he will fight against Cuchulain, but Ferdia is torn between his loyalty to his friend and his desire for wealth and glory. In the end, he agrees to fight Cuchulain, and the two friends engage in a fierce battle that lasts for days. In the end, Cuchulain emerges victorious, but he is deeply saddened by the loss of his friend.

The fourth part of the poem describes Maeve's love affair with a young warrior named Ailill. Ailill is handsome, brave, and loyal, and Maeve falls deeply in love with him. However, their happiness is short-lived, as Ailill is killed in battle against the Ulstermen. Maeve is devastated by his death and mourns him deeply.

The fifth part of the poem describes Maeve's final battle against the Ulstermen. She leads her army into battle with great courage and determination, but she is ultimately defeated. In the end, she is forced to flee back to Connacht, where she spends the rest of her days in exile and obscurity.

The final part of the poem describes Maeve's old age and her reflections on her life. She realizes that all her struggles and ambitions were ultimately futile, and that she has nothing to show for them but regret and sorrow. She longs for the peace and simplicity of her youth, but she knows that it is too late for her to go back. She dies alone and forgotten, a tragic figure whose greatness and ambition were ultimately her downfall.

The Old Age of Queen Maeve is a masterpiece of Irish poetry that combines history, mythology, and philosophy in a powerful and moving way. Yeats's vivid imagery and rich symbolism bring the characters and events to life, and his deep insights into human nature make the poem a timeless work of art. Through Maeve's story, Yeats explores the universal themes of power, love, betrayal, and mortality, and creates a portrait of a complex and fascinating character who embodies the contradictions and complexities of the human experience.

In conclusion, The Old Age of Queen Maeve is a must-read for anyone who loves poetry, history, or mythology. It is a work of art that transcends time and place, and speaks to the deepest truths of the human soul. Yeats's poetic genius shines through every line, and his vision of Maeve's life and legacy is both powerful and poignant. If you have not yet read this masterpiece, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today. You will not be disappointed.

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