Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Library Walk: Yeats' When You Are Old


An English poet turns a French poem from a sonnet into a douzain. From the original 14-line poem to a 12-line poem, When You Are Old, becomes an eight-line poem as it appears on New York's Library Walk with only the first two verses cast in bronze.

Written in 1892, while William Butler Yeats was still in his 20s When You Are Old, is an adaptation of a French sonnet by Pierre de Ronsard.

Whereas Ronsard's poem, Quand vous Serez bien Vieille, was written for his muse — Hélène de Surgères, Yeats' interpretation is for his own muse — Maud Gonne.



When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.


— William Butler Yeats


In 1996, the New York Public Library, the Grand Central Partnership and the New Yorker Magazine convened a panel of esteemed lovers of  the written word and came up with a collection of quotations from the never-ending oeuvre of literature.

These quotes were cast in bronze by New York sculptor Gregg LeFevre and then laid out as sidewalk plaques on E 41st Street in 1998. In 2003, the stretch of E 41st Street from the New York Public Library entrance on Fifth Avenue to Park Avenue was renamed Library Way.

Whether it be a birth day, anniversary or publication date of a seminal work, the Bar None Group will revisit these 40+ quotations from time to time — quotations that inspire one to write, read, explore and embrace literature. We last visited Henry David Thoreau...in a roundabout way.