The Wild Swans at Coole Theme of Old Age
The speaker of "The Wild Swans at Coole" talks about twilight, October, autumn—all things associated with the end or latter part of things (the day and the year, respectively). He also flat out says that the swans' hearts haven't "grown old." (Unlike some speaker's hearts that we might mention.) It's pretty clear that he has old age on his mind, which is sort of weird because Yeats was only about 52 when he wrote the poem. (Come on! That's not exactly a time to move into the old folks home, W.B.) In reality, the speaker is really more interested in feeling old, in the sense that he has seen lots of things change. He's lost his innocence in a way (history/biography note: World War I will do that to you). For him, old age is really more of a state of mind.
Questions About Old Age
- If Yeats was 52 when he wrote this poem, how old do you think the speaker is? Older? Younger? Why?
- Do you think the speaker might actually like thinking of himself as old? Why or why not?
- Why doesn't the speaker acknowledge that the swans will, like him, get old and die, too?
- How does the speaker's view of old age compare to/differ from the anti-aging philosophy of modern society (with its emphasis on youthful looks, for example)?
Chew on This
Although the speaker has his reservations about getting older, he also suggests that it has its benefits. He is less carefree ("lighter") than he used to be, but he seems to be wiser. It's a mixed bag, that aging thing.
The sophistication of this reflection tells us that the speaker is not really as old or as weary as he'd like us to believe (the fibber). His mind and perception are still energetic and youthful.