The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner

Writer: W. B. Yeats


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 the 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 the fire in rain outside. It means he had a 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 society through some barbarous activities. But the poet is not concerned about the possible anarchy in 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.

Significance of the Title:

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 privileged position or 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) benefits 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 the early 1920s. It gives him heroic feeling and helps, like a 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 the 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. Synge 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 isn’t exactly what Yeats has in mind in poems like “Who Goes with Fergus?” and “The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland.”

Important Questions and Answers:

Q.1. Write a brief essay on “Art and Life” or “Life and Art”.
Ans: The skill of creation is called Art. People in possession (having) of this creative skill are known as an artist. Art may be different by its form, style and time. Although it is different from its form and style, art always influences human beings. Art always remains as an effective and important motivational factor for human beings. In order to live a happy and satisfied life, art is an inevitable aspect of life. Art in its supreme form is able to provide us with the deepest inner freshness which in turn inspires us to make ourselves happy and amiable.
To get rid of the difficulties in life, it is immensely important for us to appreciate. By appreciating art, we can keep ourselves happy by forgetting the problems of life. Human life is very transient (short) and when we die our life is finished. But despite this appearance of physical existence, an artist can live an immortal life. Life is sure to come to an end but art remains forever. Laxmi Prasad Devkota is remaining immortal among Nepali people for his fine piece of art in, literature in the form of “Muna Madan”. Other great artist’s of different artistic fields are still immortal because of their great works of art. When we enjoy the art we find amiability within ourselves thereby inspiring us to appreciate art. It is indeed true that all works of art provide us with the deepest experience and higher value of our life.

Q.2. Write an essay on “Youth and Age”.
Ans: An old man has not much left but memories. His life is nearly done. But a few years remain. So the future does not much occupy his mind. He dwells a good deal in the past looking back over the long life he has lived, which seems to have gone so quickly. He thinks of his lost youth and of all he dreamed of and meant to do then.

A boy lives mainly in the present and takes short views of life. And he is an erratic creature, moved by sudden and incalculable impulses. One can never know what he will be up to next. One can no more calculate what he will do or say than you can when and how and where the wind will blow. So “a boy’s will is the wind’s will”.But when the boy grows up to be a young man, he begins to think of his future. He stands on the threshold of his life, and all the year to come to stretch away before him to a far off horizon. and what a long life it looks! To a youth of twenty, the forty or fifty or even sixty years he may live seem an eternity.

He begins to dream of all he will do and become in that vast period ahead. He dreams of effort and achievement. He will become a famous scholar. He will develop a great business and become a billionaire. He will write great books or paint great pictures or compose great music, and earn fame. He will take up politics, and rise to position and power. So he will think of the distant future.

Q.3. Mention the three things the old man laments about? Why is he sad about them?
Ans: The poem “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner “ is the poet’s dissatisfaction. He is old now. Firstly he laments for the loss of his youth and power. Secondly, he is also angry with the time because the time has changed from a handsome young man to a retired older man. Thirdly he laments about his past love. Many young women used to love him, but nobody loves him now.

Q.4. What is the lamentation of the old pensioner?
How and why does the old pensioner lament?
Why does the old pensioner condemn the time?
Why does the old pensioner want to spite into the face of the time?
Why does the poet want to spit into the face of time?
Why is the poet angry in the poem “The lamentation of the pensioner”?
Why does the poet show his anger against time?
What makes the old pensioner feel isolated in his old age?
What is the speaker lamenting on?
How does the speaker feel about old age in “The lamentation of the old pensioner”?
Why does the old pensioner lament in his old age?

Ans: William Butler Yeats (W.B Yeats) is a famous Irish poet. In the poem “The Lamentation of the old pensioner”, the poet laments remembering the past events and experiences of his young life. Now the romantic old days when he uses to stay on a chair nearest to the fire. He used to talk about love. He was young, popular and energetic. Many beautiful women used to love him. But now those all things are gone. He is not loved even by a single woman. Now the people are busy with making pikes. They are selfish and are making conspiracy. He has become a matter of hatred. He feels isolated in his old age. That’s why the poet shows his anger against the time by spitting into the face of time and laments in his old age.

Q.5. What is the memory of the speaker in his old age?
Ans: “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner” is the poem written by W. B. Yeats, the greatest English poet of 20th century. There are a lot of memories of the speaker in his old age. When he was young, he used to sit nearest to the fire, which warmed and comforted him. In England, it rains during winter. You can’t light the fire in rain outside. It means he had a 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 those romantic days are no more with him now because the time completely changed his life. He presents the recollection of his young age and contrasts them with his present pitiful old life in the poem. The title suggests that the poet is a Pensioner. It means he must be very old and is living a retired life.

Questions for Practice :

  1. Why does the poet show his anger against time?
  2. Why does the old man want to ‘spit into the face of time’?
  3. Why and how does the old pensioner lament?
  4. What is the speaker lamenting on?

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