The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner
The poem is spoken from the point of view of an old man who looks upon the political and romantic obsessions of the young Irish. He suggests that once upon a time he too “talked of love and politics” but that now, with his age perspective, his thoughts rest on Time and eternal questions. In the final stanza, we learn that these meditations are not pleasant, as he suggests that no woman pay him attention due to his age, thought he still recalls the women he once loved. The poem ends as he curses Time, which has changed him from young to old.
The Poem “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner ” is a revised version of Yeats’s earlier poem “The old pensioner” (1890). The speaker of the poem is no longer a young man but an old pensioner who can but only think how beautiful the youth was. In his youth, he used to sit round the fire with his friends and they used to talk of love or politics. The young people, even now, are engaged in warfare and struggle to fight against the human tyranny. However, the speaker’s attention is, deeply focused on Time (’R’1J that has changed him into an old and incapacitated (W1nl) man (broken tree). Therefore, at the best, he carr only remember and express his sorrow for that passing youth, vigor, zeal and beauty. The title is apt because it states the condition of the speaker (an old pensioner) and what the poem is about lamentation.
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 mediations aren’t exactly what Yeats has in mind in poems like “Who Goes With Fergus?” and “The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland.”