> Skip to content
About the book
  • Published: 29 July 2015
  • ISBN: 9780143107644
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $29.99

When You Are Old

Early Poems, Plays, And Fairy Tales


Formats & editions


The poems, prose, and drama gathered in When You Are Old introduce a fresh portrait of the Nobel Prize-winning writer as a younger man: the 1890s aesthete and dandy who collected Irish folklore, dabbled in magic, and wrote heartrending poems for his beloved-the beautiful, elusive Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne.

From the publication of his first poems at the age of twenty, to his Nobel Prize in 1923, W. B. Yeats grew from an aspiring poet spellbound by the mystical life, to an Irish senator crafting modernist poetry around a complex system of symbolism. When You are Old: Early Poems and Fairy Tales returns to the younger Yeats, encountering him through Irish mythology and much-beloved poems like "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" and "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" that made him popular during his own lifetime. The poems, plays, and prose collected here present Yeats as the 1890s aesthete who dressed as a dandy, collected Irish folklore, dabbled in magic, and wrote beautiful poems for his beloved, steeped in the late-Victorian aesthetics of the symbolist and decadence movements, as well as early modernism. Approaching his early verse and tales with innocent candor as if reading Yeats for the first time, this volume proffers lush images of western Ireland full of faeries and otherworldly beings, framed within a profound fascination with aestheticism and the Arts and Crafts Movement, all giving expression to Yeats's early nationalist sympathies.

  • Pub date: 29 July 2015
  • ISBN: 9780143107644
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $29.99

About the Authors

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was born in Dublin. His father was a lawyer and a well-known portrait painter. Yeats was educated in London and in Dublin, but he spent his summers in the west of Ireland in the family's summer house at Connaught. The young Yeats was very much part of the fin de siècle in London; at the same time he was active in societies that attempted an Irish literary revival. His first volume of verse appeared in 1887, but in his earlier period his dramatic production outweighed his poetry both in bulk and in import. Together with Lady Gregory he founded the Irish Theatre, which was to become the Abbey Theatre, and served as its chief playwright until the movement was joined by John Synge. His plays usually treat Irish legends; they also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King's Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known.

After 1910, Yeats's dramatic art took a sharp turn toward a highly poetical, static, and esoteric style. His later plays were written for small audiences; they experiment with masks, dance, and music, and were profoundly influenced by the Japanese Noh plays. Although a convinced patriot, Yeats deplored the hatred and the bigotry of the Nationalist movement, and his poetry is full of moving protests against it. He was appointed to the Irish Senate in 1922. Yeats is one of the few writers whose greatest works were written after the award of the Nobel Prize. Whereas he received the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on his lyric achievement.

His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most influential twentieth-century poets writing in English. His recurrent themes are the contrast of art and life, masks, cyclical theories of life (the symbol of the winding stairs), and the ideal of beauty and ceremony contrasting with the hubbub of modern life. Yeats died in 1939.


Related titles