Introduction Section One Section Two
Section Three Section Four Conclusion
I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and history,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way--the children's eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.
Amongst youth itself, Yeats can see his age clearly, able to perceive himself as the “sixty-year-old smiling public man" that he is. From this moment, Yeats realizes the fleeting nature of life and begins to question his legacy and accomplishments. He wants to know if his education was similar to the children, who learn in the “best modern way.” Understanding what knowledge is helpful in life, he walks “through the long schoolroom questioning” whether the lessons they are being taught are really relevant to life. They learn “to cipher and to sing, to study reading-books and history," but Yeats realizes that life’s true lessons do not come from the classroom.
I dream of a Ledaean body,
Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy--
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato's parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.
Envisioning what these innocent children will someday have to realize, Yeats imagines the rape of Leda by Zeus, turning a “childish day to tragedy.” Leda’s body “bent/ Above a sinking fire” is symbolic of her diminishing youthful spirit; Leda loses the gayness and purity of her youth through one “trivial event." Also, Yeats strategically uses line 11 of the poem for the first alteration in meter. This six feet line deviates from the typical five feet of each preceding line. This change parallels Leda’s, and the children’s, transition from innocence to knowledge. Although an extreme example, Yeats knows that later in life, these children, with the same Leda-like innocence, will have to be stripped of their purity. From this rape of Leda, Helen of Troy is born, thought to be the most beautiful woman on earth. She serves as a comparison to Maude Gonne, Yeats’s youthful first love. He imagines the two of them, like Plato’s parable, with no sex differentiations, being together as the “yolk and white of the one shell."