Why should not old men be mad?

Here is another poem by the great Irish poet from about 100 years or so ago, WB Yeats. It is a reflection on life’s disillusions and disappointments, obvious to old men, but to which young people are oblivious.

 

Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?
by William Butler Yeats
(1865-1939)

 

Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.

 
From <http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/wbyeats/bl-wbye-why.htm&gt;

 
The poem begins by restating the question posed in the title, cementing the theme of the poem. There follow three examples of youthful hopes and aspirations which have evaporated over time – the young fisherman who becomes a drunk; the girl full of Dante’s poetry who married an airhead, a beautiful young social worker who becomes a strident harridan. The rest of the poem contrasts the old men who know full well, because they have lived it, the disappointments and unfulfilled potential of lives and of life in general, and the young men, who know nothing of this.

So the poem leads inevitably but artfully to the final line, which echoes the initial question, but says the answer has been found and explained.

This poem is a somewhat pessimistic view of life, but is a nice working out of the themes of aging with disillusion and the disappointment of youthful hopes. To find the consolations of aging, I guess we need to look elsewhere.

 

The Poetry Dude

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