I came upon the poem below by Irishman, William Butler Yeats, today, and was reminded how it’s like older Irish poetry about the Old Woman of Beare, who lamented being of old age and for the many years, long lost, of exploits in love and glory.
The Old Woman of Beare was tormented and bitter, and was used by Padraic (Patrick) Pearse as a personification of Ireland in his lament song, Mise Éire (I Am Ireland; song below). Pearse was one of the lead revolutionaries for the Irish Rebellion of 1916 that later gained Ireland’s independence from Britain in 1922[1.1], at least for most of the isle. Northern Ireland remains with Great Britain to this day.
Pearse’s lament showed the pain and sorrow of Ireland, and himself, as he spoke of the torments of the enemy and the death of the Irish people through both submission and physical death. It is a painful image of Ireland.
Yeats’ poem, though, has more hope. It speaks to a woman in the now, and tells her to look at her distant future, when she is old and beside a burning hearth, full of glowing peat bars. He’s reminding her of love and that there was a man who loved her traveling soul and the troubles in her heart.
The poem gives her an image of herself when it is too late, as someone with sad murmuring about that Love who left, because she would not test whether his love was “false or true,” and so instead, they went separate ways and he roamed the mountain wilderness and hid among a mass of stars he found there. But because this is an image of a possible future, it is not too late, if she’d find the one who would be true.
So, let this be a reminder that, though, often times, sparks of love may only be fleeting or false, there can still be true love found in the crowd. And in my experience, without God’s help, finding that true love can be impossible, so be mindful to ask the Lord’s guidance whenever love, false or true, may present itself.
When You Are Old
by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
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.
by Padraic (Patrick) Pearse (1879-1916)
|Mise Éire||I am Ireland|
|Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra|
|I am older than the old woman of Beare|
|Mór mo ghlóir||Great my glory|
|Mé a rug Cú Chulainn cróga|
|I who bore Cuchulainn, the brave|
|Mór mo náir||Great my shame|
|Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair|
|My own children who sold their mother|
|Mór mo phian||Great my pain|
|Bithnaimhde do mo shíorchiapadh|
|My irreconcilable enemy who harrasses me continually|
|Mór mo bhrón||Great my sorrow|
|D’éag an dream inar chuireas dóchas|
|That crowd, in whom I placed my trust, died|
|Mise Éire||I am Ireland|
|Uaigní mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra||I am lonelier than the old woman of Beare|
References[1.1] "Irish War of Independence". Wikipedia. Retrieved 2022 Mar. 19.