tom moody

Yeats' "The Four Ages"

An earlier draft of the W.B. Yeats poem, "The Four Ages of Man":


He with Body waged a fight;
Body won and walks upright.

Then he struggled with the Heart;
Innocence and peace depart.

Then he struggled with the mind,
His proud Heart he left behind.

Now his wars with God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.

This version appeared in a 1934 letter from Yeats to Olivia Shakespear, quoted in Richard Ellman's The Identity of Yeats. I prefer the gender-neutral title. The other differences with the finished poem are (i) the words "body" and "heart" aren't in initial caps and (ii) the second line is "But body won; it walks upright" (too many semicolons!).

In any case, this poem offers a capsule version of Yeats' book A Vision -- the cycles apply to the individual as well as historical, collective "ages." I like the poem's elegance, brevity, and certainty.

- tom moody

August 12th, 2017 at 3:21 pm

Posted in books