Unit One : Love And Reminiscence The Lamentation of The Old Pensioner – W.B. Yeast The Heritage of Words
W. B. Yeats, the greatest English poet of 20th century, presents the reminiscences of his eventful young age and contrasts them with his present pathetic old life in the poem, “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner.”
The title suggests that the poet is a Pensioner. It means he must be very old and is living a retired life. He says whenever he is caught in rain he takes shelter under a broken tree. The broken tree can not protect him from the rain. Here, one must note the point that in England it rains during winter. It means he is deprived of a reliable shelter, when he needs it most. But it was not always the case with him. When he was young, he used to sit nearest to the fire, which warmed and comforted him. You can’t light fire in rain outside. It means he had reliable place to live in when he was young. Not only that, the cosy parlour of the poet always used to be full with the livelier company of his friends who talked about love and politics. But today, he misses them as “Time” has taken away all his friends leaving him old and isolated.
He sees some mischievous boys making weapons for some conspiracy. These ‘rascals’ are sure to create chaos in the society through some barbarous activities. But the poet is not concerned about the possible anarchy in the society. He is sad as the time has transfigured him.
The poet laments that the time has made him ugly like a broken tree and therefore, no woman shows interest in him. However, the poet consoles himself that “the beauties that he loved” are still fresh in his memory. He holds the “Time” a culprit, who has taken away his shelter, friends, youth, energy, and charm and wants to spit on its face in disgust for his metamorphosis.
About the Topic: The title of the poem, “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner”, consists three content words, two nouns (“lamentation” and “Pensioner”), and an adjective, “old” that qualifies the second noun.
“Lamentation” means mourning or wailing over the loss of some precious things, a privilege position or an advantage. The second noun used by the poet is “pensioner”. The poet could have used ‘man’ instead. But he didn’t. It is remarkable. A pensioner is a senior citizen, who is provided with some (monetary) benifits for the services s/he has provided in her/his youth. It helps him/her to live in old age.
The poet has become old as the ‘Time’ has cast its spell (effect) and transfigured him into an ugly old man. It has taken away all his physical charms, energy, and friends. Therefore, he is lamenting. However, at the same time, he boasts that Time was not able to take away the memories of his heroic deeds done during the Irish cultural revolutions and Irish republican movements of early 1920s. It gives him heroic feeling and helps, like pension, to live in old age.
The poem is based on a conversation that Yeats had with an elderly poet. He wrote in a letter that the poem was: little more than a translation into verse of the very words of an old Wicklow peasant.”
Wicklow, by the way, is a green, rural county south of Dublin. This precise technique of observation of peasants is what Yeats later recommended to J.M. Sybge upon meeting him in Paris, and which led to successful works like The Playboy of the Western World.
The elderly peasant’s lamentation is that time has transformed him into someone that is no longer important or viable. This is in contrast to Yeats’s other, more wistful and gentle portrayal of age in the rest of the collection. The pikes to which the “old pensioner” refers are the weapons traditionally used in nationalist uprisings against the British, which the man is too old for, so regards as futile.
The poem complicates Yeats’s earlier poems, many of which exhort the Irish to contemplate eternal questions like Time rather than take up their pikes, so to speak, for a passing political issue. This old man, who is forced away from politics and love, shows the downside of such contemplative non-participation in life. Of course, he is still tormented by the passions of his youth for women and conservation, and so his mediation aren’t exactly what Yeats has in mind in poems like “Who Goes with Fergus?” and “The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland.”
Frequently Asked Questions:
- Why does the poet show his anger against time?
- Why does the old man want to ‘spit into the face of time’?
- Mention any three things the old man laments about. Why is he sad about them?
- Why and how does the old pensioner lament?
- What is the speaker lamenting on?