The Lamentation of the old pensioner | WB Yeats | Summary

the lamentation of the old pensioner


The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner Summary 
Writer: W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats, the greatest English poet of the 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 cozy (comfortable) parlour of the poet always used to be full of 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( Change).

An Alternative short summary of the lamentation of the old pensioner

‘The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner’ is a poem composed by W. B. Yeats, an Irish poet, and dramatist of the early twentieth century. This poem is a revised version of the poet’s earlier poem ‘The Old Pensioner’. The poem presents the poet’s reminiscences (memories) of his young life, which becomes more agonizing (painful) as he looks at his present state and contrasts his time of youth with his state in the old age. This poem contains three verses. Throughout the poem, the poet brings out a comparison between his youth and his present old age.

In the past, when he was young, he used to sit in a chair beside the fire and used to talk about love and politics. He used to make pikes and play with his friends. He had seen and loved many beauties. But now he is old and sits under a broken tree, which is symbolic of deserted (destroyed) life. There is no one to talk to him nor, any woman looks at him. He is ignored, neglected, and unwanted. He lives a very miserable life. He contemplates (thinks deeply) on time that has transfigured (changed totally) him. The last line in each stanza is repeated, so forms a refrain (repetition).

Significance of the Title

The title of the poem, “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner”, consists of 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 a heroic feeling and helps, like a pension, to live in old age.

Analysis of the poem

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.”

Short Questions

1. Why does the old man hate time? why does the old man want to spit into the face of time?

Ans: The persona in the poem “The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner” is an old man who can be the poet himself or an old man in general. He is living a very miserable life. He is ignored and unwanted by everyone. He finds his shelter under a broken tree and there is no one to talk to him. The situation becomes more painful (pitiful) when he remembers his youth and contrasts it with his old age. He was quite charming, cheerful, and friendly in his youth but nobody looks at nor accompanies him now. It is all caused by time that has transfigured his youth into old age. Now, the poet is living a lonely life because of time. He has a desire to recover his happiness but that is hindered by the passage of time. That is why the man wants to spit into the face of “Time”.

2. Mention (write) three things the old man laments about. Why is he sad about them?  or, What is the speaker lamenting for?

Ans: The poem contains three verses (stanzas), each of which contains lamentations of the old man. In the first stanza, the poet laments about his shelter, which is now under a broken tree. In the past, it was a cozy shelter he was in and he used to talk with his friends happily about love and politics, sitting by the fire. In the second stanza, he laments about his old age and goes envious (jealous) of the young boys. The reminiscence of his youth hurts him very badly. In the third stanza, he laments about his state of loneliness because he is very old and no woman looks at him. In short, the persona (speaker-poet) terribly suffers from nostalgia.

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 old man. Thirdly he laments about his past love. Many young women used to love him but nobody loves him now.


1. Write a brief essay on “Art and Life” or “Life and Art”

The skill of creation is called Art. People in possession (having) of this creative skill are known as an artist. Art may be different from 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 it. 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 artists 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.

2. Write an essay on “Youth and Age”

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.

General Discussion

1. W.B.Yeats- an Irish poet and dramatist.

2. The poem presents poet’s reminiscences(memories) of his youth (young life)- his prime youth which was eventful(active, beautiful)- wonderful, carefree, passionate.

3. The poet looks at his present state (the old age)- which is painful- agonizing than the past life- only the memories.

4.Presentation of contrast between his youth and old age.

5. He laments for his youth.

6. Old pensioner- a person who has been retired from his youth.

The speaker gets pension in his old age ie. trouble, loneliness, loss of vigor (power, capacity), Zeal and enthusiasm, incompetence (incapability), old body, no love, no friends, no proper care-an inactive fellow who is compelled to live a dilapidated (neglected) life with the sweet and fresh memories of his past (youth).

Points That Make a summary of the lamentation of the old Pensioner:

1. First Stanza:

i. The speaker is a retired old man who compares himself with a broken tree under which he is taking shelter from the rain ( difficulties of the old age) and is living on (depending upon) pension (old age). This is his present state-miserable condition.

ii. Then, he remembers his youth when he would have company(many friends), who would discuss about about love, the country’s politics and so many other things that young people cherish (enjoy). This was when before he was transfigured (changed) into the old man by TIME.

2. Second stanza:

i. The speaker contemplates (meditates) upon his present time(old age) -incapable of doing anything- just sees the lads(young people) making weapons (pikes) for the purpose of fighting against their cruel rulers (Tyrants)-autocratic rulers who are making some conspiracies( bad things) to the people.

ii. He further sees young people full of their rage (anger) are making protests against bad rulers. The speaker remembers the same thing he used to do in the past before he was transformed into an old man. But now time transfigured him as he can’t fight against human tyranny.

3. Third Stanza:

i. The speaker again gets engaged upon his present age. He likens himself with a broken tree. Due to his old age, he is not able to have love relations with any woman and all women ignore him- they even don’t have a look upon him. This suggests his solitariness-neglected life. No company at all.

ii. But still, the poet is able to have fresh memories of the love and beauties he had in the past, and with the help of those reminiscences he is compelled to live his old life.

iii. Having such serious contemplation, he comes to the conclusion that it is Time that made him devoid of all youthful things and events and changed him into a miserable condition. So, he becomes angry with time and spits into it’s(time’s) face. Time is his great enemy.

iv. ”Time and Tide Wait for No Man”- This proverb has beautifully been in use in this poem. Time has invincible ( that can’t be defeated) power and everybody has to bow in front of it. Time is the most powerful thing in the world.

Question For Practice (Previously asked Questions)

1. What is the memory of the speaker in his old age?
2. Why is the poet angry with the time? Explain.
3. What does the broken tree symbolize the poem? Does Yeats compare himself with the broken tree in his old age?
4. Why does the old Pensioner lament in his old age?
5. Why does the old pensioner spit into the face of time?
6. How does the speaker feel about old age in ‘The Lamentation of the old pensioner’?
7. What makes the old pensioner feel isolated in his old age?
8. What does the poet spit into the face of time?
9. What is the lamentation of the old pensioner?
10. How and why does the old pensioner Lament?
11. Why does the old pensioner condemn the time?
12. Why does the old pensioner want to spirit into the face of time?
13. What makes the old pensioner feel isolated in his old age?
14. Why does the poet want to sprit into the face of time?
15. Why is the poet angry in ’The lamentation of the old pensioner’?
16. Explain the title of the poem ‘The lamentation of the old pensioner’.
17. Why does the poet show his anger against
18. What is the speaker lamenting on?
19. How and why does the old pensioner lament?
20. Mention the three things the old man laments about. Why is he sad about them?
21. Why does the old man want to ‘spit into the face of time’?
22. Write an essay on Youth and Age.

Key points of the poem

Some Additional Information About the poem

WB Yeats– A well known ( famous) 20th-century Irish( Poet and dramatist). Lament- A sense of bad feeling of agony, miseries.
Old: A person retired from youth.
Pensioner: Persons Who get pension after retirement from any job.
Shelter: retreat(dwelling place) living.
Rain: Difficulties in old man life.
Fire: Energy, emotion, vigorous compacity, and enthusiasm. 

Some Word to understand
Refrain: Word phases/ sentence that is repeated in line of a poem.
Significations: To provide musical quality, to focus on the theme/ subject matter. 
Complacency: Satisfaction
Resignation: Acceptance 
Range: angry. 
In the poem
Character: Active, Cheerful, Friendly, humourous.
Circumstance: Miserable, Pathetic, sympathetic, Full of agonizes, Pains, suffering from pangs of past reminiscences. 
Attitude: Positive, Negative, Ambivalence.


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