1904 | London

The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water

William Butler Yeats sees the future in the water’s past.

I heard the old, old men say,
“Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.”
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say,
“All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.”


W.B. Yeats

From In the Seven Woods. The Irish poet was in his thirties when he wrote this short verse, though it was not, even then, his earliest work concerned with growing older. “My first denunciation of old age,” he later wrote to Olivia Shakespear, came “before I was twenty.” In 1922, when the Irish Free State was founded, Yeats accepted an invitation to serve in its senate. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.