When You Are Old (William Butler Yeats)

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Old and Gray Yeats

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep, 
And nodding by the fire, take down this book, 
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look 
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; 
How many loved your moments of glad grace, 
And loved your beauty with love false or true, 
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, 
And loved the sorrows of your changing face; 
And bending down beside the glowing bars, 
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled 
And paced upon the mountains overhead 
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
By William Butler Yeats
Illustrated by Corrie Haffly
Once upon a time there was a boy. He had asked me out and I—reeling from a breakup after a 4-year relationship—could hardly comprehend it. I was in a daze, and he was one of a number of blurry figures saying blurred things to me in the maelstrom.
A week later, that same boy stood next to me in the buffet line at a campus ministry dinner, and began with these words: “when you are old and gray and full of sleep…” I didn’t have a clue what he was saying. He kept talking, and at some point I think I realized it was poetry, but I didn’t understand what was happening. I remember his face being dignified and his voice quiet, and then he walked away and didn’t seem to expect me to say anything. Which I didn’t.
I remembered the words “full of sleep”, and “the pilgrim soul”, and some time later went hunting for what I could only assume had been a poem. I found it, and for some reason have treasured the honour of being esteemed by his gentle, kind young man so many years ago, when all he got from me was a blank stare and mute disbelief.
I wish I’d at least been able to say thank you. 
This, in hindsight, is my thank you. To a girl whose heart was shredded, your words made me feel seen.

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