Imagery In When You Are Old By William Butler Yeats

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In the poem “When You Are Old,” William Butler Yeats is telling his past lover that once she gets to her old age, she will be regretting and dying alone. Yeats uses metaphorical imagery to indirectly degrades her by putting her a situation where she is pathetically aging alone.
Yeats tells her that she will be “old and grey and full of sleep” (line 1). He presents the quality of being old with two metaphors. The color “grey” is associated with the characteristics of being old and the color itself is closely related to the color black, in which both colors associates with death. He directly presents her with “grey,” which is the same color as ashes and at the same time she is positioned by the fire in the poem. The combination of the two creates an image where his previous lover’s body gets cremated. By setting the past lover as “grey,” he is presenting the time when she is in her last stage of life. He emphasizes last stage of her life through “full of sleep.” Sleep associates with inactiveness of the human body. So when one is “full of sleep,” he or she is given death-like characteristic. By putting her in a position of an old person through metaphorical image, he is inconspicuously devaluing his past lover. Notice that he is detailed with the characteristics of being old. At the same time, he manipulates language by indirectly using imagery. This creates a “first impression syndrome,” where the poem seems to romantic, but in reality the poem is degrading a person. Yeats

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