does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"... and one man loved the pilgrim soul in you ..."

When I first read the phrase Pilgrim Soul in William Butler Yeats’ poem, "When You Are Old," something in me said, Yes! That phrase seemed to capture my life’s journey and the journey of so many of my fictional characters. It had a spiritual resonance, and perhaps I was simply remembering that pilgrimages have a long religious tradition. The phrase also spoke, though, of the special journeys of a nonreligious nature that people embark on to seek essential truths about their lives.

What I find interesting about the phrase Pilgrim Soul is how often it appears in other blogs, whether in the web address, the title, the profile or in a post. I didn’t become aware of this until after I had Googled “blogs” and “pilgrim soul” and, in the close to 12,000 search results, discovered vastly different meanings for this phrase in the various blogs.

One woman suggested that the poem “When You Are Old” referred to “…a woman in a transitional phase …menopause…” Pilgrim Soul. In another blog, a 28-year-old woman is on a quest to “…helping protect the environment…” The Pilgrim Souls. In still another blog, a man who is a poet and English professor describes himself as a Pilgrim Soul in the About Me section. A Last Confession.

Then there were the blogs that talked about Yeats’ long pursuit of his beloved Maud Gonne and how “When You Are Old” was a love poem to her. What is clear is that this poem has great resonance for many, even as each of us gleans vastly different meaning from the poet’s words.

When You Are Old

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars
Murmur a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

William Butler Yeats

1 comment:

Hank said...

Imperfect as we all are, none of us escapes the burden of a pilgrimage. The test is whether at the end we can testify to having grown. I salute the author for acknowledging how widespread this obligation is in all of us.