In defiant old age, the Irish master W B Yeats (1865-1939) reaches out for heroic exemplars such as Shakespeare and William Blake and for a “mind Michael Angelo knew/ That can pierce the clouds.”

Another memorable image (though negative) in this thought-provoking poem is, “the mill of the mind/ Consuming its rag and bone.” He uses an archaic spelling for Michelangelo.


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Picture and book remain,

An acre of green grass

For air and exercise,

Now strength of body goes;

Midnight, an old house

Where nothing stirs but a mouse.


My temptation is quiet.

Here at life’s end

Neither loose imagination,

Nor the mill of the mind

Consuming its rag and bone,

Can make the truth known.


Grant me an old man’s frenzy,

Myself must I remake

Till I am Timon and Lear

Or that William Blake

Who beat upon the wall

Till Truth obeyed his call;


A mind Michael Angelo knew

That can pierce the clouds,

Or inspired by frenzy

Shake the dead in their shrouds;

Forgotten else by mankind,

An old man’s eagle mind.