- Yeats’ wrote this poem when he was 61 years old.
- Yeats was a member of a committee, which was reviewing how model schools worked
- Yeats had just visited St Otteran’s, a Catholic school in Waterford, which was run under very modern educational principles
What are the questions posed by Yeats in this poem?
Is this a poem about youth and age?
Or a poem questioning the value of life?
- What do you think is Yeats’ opinion of the children’s education, from the description in stanza one?
- There is a clear contrast between the youth and innocence of the children, and the age and cynicism of Yeats. How is this achieved through the last three lines in stanza one?
- The “she” in stanza two is a possible reference to Maude Gonne, Yeats’ long time unrequited love. What does the description “bent/ Above a sinking fire” imply about her?
- What do the last four lines in stanza two suggest about Yeats’ relationship with Maude? What is the technique in the last line?
- What does Yeats wonder when he looks at the children?
- What does “For even daughters of the swan can share/ Something of every paddler’s heritage” allude to?
- In stanza three, Yeats’ thoughts move from imagination to the present reality. What does the allusion to Quattrocentro mean?
- What does the metaphor of Yeats’ being a “scarecrow” suggest about what aging means to him?
- In stanza four, Yeats’ thoughts again move – this time to a universal rhetorical question. What is the question that he poses?
- What is the technique in the line “sleep, shriek, struggle”?
- In stanza five, Yeats’ references Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras. Why does he do so? What is the significance of the last line?
- What is the comparison made in stanza six? In what way can children also “break hearts”?
- What do you think the first four lines of stanza seven mean?
- What is the conclusion brought out in the two rhetorical questions in stanza seven? What does Yeats’ suggest about life, youth, age?