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W. B. Yeats – ‘Broken Dreams’ – Analysis And What It Is All About

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This week I picked another great Irish poem from W.B. Yeats. It comes in at number 77 on the top 100 Irish poems list.

Rather than sharing the analysis and my general understanding of the poem first, I have decided to share the poem followed by the analysis of W.B YeatsBroken Dreams” underneath. 

Broken Dreams

There is grey in your hair.
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing;
But maybe some old gaffer mutters a blessing
Because it was your prayer
Recovered him upon the bed of death.
For your sole sake—that all heart’s ache have known,
And given to others all heart’s ache,
From meagre girlhood’s putting on
Burdensome beauty—for your sole sake
Heaven has put away the stroke of her doom,
So great her portion in that peace you make
By merely walking in a room.

Your beauty can but leave among us
Vague memories, nothing but memories.
A young man when the old men are done talking
Will say to an old man, ‘Tell me of that lady
The poet stubborn with his passion sang us
When age might well have chilled his blood.’

Vague memories, nothing but memories,
But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed.
The certainty that I shall see that lady
Leaning or standing or walking
In the first loveliness of womanhood,
And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,
Has set me muttering like a fool.

You are more beautiful than any one,
And yet your body had a flaw:
Your small hands were not beautiful,
And I am afraid that you will run
And paddle to the wrist
In that mysterious, always brimming lake
Where those that have obeyed the holy law
Paddle and are perfect; leave unchanged
The hands that I have kissed
For old sake’s sake.

The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air:
Vague memories, nothing but memories.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

What is the poem Broken Dreams all about?

Well, another fabulous Irish poem by Yeats. This is another poem about his love Maud. In it, he goes through past, present, future and his unrequited love for Maud. 

It was written in 1917 when he was 52 years of age; this was just after his last proposal to Maud Gonne. Maud’s estranged husband, John MacBride, was already dead at this time due to being executed in May 1916 for his part in the Easter 1916 rising. 

So Yeats, in this poem, talks about Maud and how even though time has passed, she still is incredible in his eyes.

 “Your beauty can but leave among us”. Yeats is still amazed by the physical beauty she once had.

If you don’t know, Yeats was tormented with his love for Maud and her unwillingness to reciprocate the love back to him. In other poems by Yeats, such as “When you are old” or “Cloths of Heaven“, he can still not accept this fact. 

“Vague memories, nothing but memories.” which highlights that he has finally accepted Maud’s rejection and is no longer tormented by it.

After all, they say that time heals all wounds, which I am sure could be an old Irish saying

So you could say that Yeats used the title “Broken Dreams” to be deemed that throughout this poem, he accepts that their relationship was something of the past and realises there is no point in pursuing something that is already lost or even broken”.

A great poem by Yeats. What did you think of this top Irish poem? 

Comment below, and thanks for stopping by. 


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Jane Coleman

Saturday 28th of August 2021

Wow! I was led to read this today! Gosh how I miss my Irish flesh and blood, no longer in sight Laying heavy on my heart. What a perfect description of womanhood, aging.

I fear I'm very much 57! Have missed out on 20 years gone...Body and beauty following on. Lost love and moving on, 20 years? Time to find my Irish, Tipperary spirit and maybe one day lay feet upon your land. Eyes once again sparkling, like the sun upon the sea. After all a gal can dream.

I have family in Thurles, unknown to me. My mother passed away when I was a gal, She was only 30, Irish beauty. Her name was Angela Rose Carroll. My granddaughter bears her name and my daughter looks very much the same.

I must have the Irish ramble! Haha, I can tell a story or two. Thank you for setting my morning in great spirit. God Bless to you 🍀🌹

Irish Around The World

Saturday 28th of August 2021

Lovely post ❤️

Weldon John Eugene

Friday 27th of August 2021

I appreciate the poem and the contained sentiments. The unreciprocated love or enrapture can be so devastating that its effects can be found in many a delicate soul still among us. "Love hurts" as the song goes. And it would seem that poets are more susceptible than others to the hurt and neglegt or even brusk rejection, perhaps even due to their own sentimentality. Or is it that they turn to express sentimental poetry because it seems to them to provide either the relief they yearn for, or as vent for their peining?