Courses for Kids
Free study material
Offline Centres
Store Icon

The Tower Poem by William Butler Yeats

share icon
share icon

What Does ‘The Tower’ Mean?

'The Tower,' written during Yeats' mature period, is a well-received poem. It's a stunning poem about his failing physical health as well as his burgeoning political and personal concerns. The poem was included in Yeats' first major collection after obtaining the Nobel Prize in 1923, ‘The Tower,’ released in 1927. The poem's and book's titles both refer to Ballylee Castle, a Norman tower that Yeats bought in 1917 and refurbished. The Tower seems to be a companion poem to ‘Sailing to Byzantium,’ because the poet discusses old age and his ideal man.

Let’s read the poem and understand its themes, summary, analysis and more.

Summary of The Tower

'The Tower' begins with the poet's reluctance to embrace his old age but finishes on a more aggressive and calming note of following Burke and Gratton as his inspirations.

W. B. Yeats' poem ‘The Tower’ portrays the absurdity of growing old. While he is physically weakening, he is becoming more passionate and motivated than ever before. Nonetheless, he recognises that in order to match his age, it is necessary to say goodbye to poetry and embrace reason. He climbs up and down the tower, recalling the affluent Mrs. French, the mythical peasant girl, and the figure Hanrahan that he created. He also considers those who would benefit from neither love nor music. The former master of the poet's house is one of these men. He also recalls individuals who entered the house dressed for war.

The speaker is curious if the people he has remembered are feeling the same way as he does now. After failing to receive a suitable response, he asks Hanrahan if one thinks about a woman who has won or lost more often. He believes that losing a woman is an irreversible mistake. As he progresses through the third section, the grasp of his age appears to be much more stable. Following Grattan and Burke, the speaker dazzles. He also shows his contempt for Plato and Plotinus, stating that he does not wish to choose sides. He ends by saying that he is ready to die with some ancient poetry and women's affection. He also believes that now is the proper moment to prepare his body and mind for death, whether it be his own or of those he loves.

Themes in The Tower

The poet's reaction to his own bodily weakness brought on by time is the major subject or theme of 'The Tower.' He was youthful and matured in his intellect, with new imagination, by the time he noticed his power was failing. The poet wonders if those who spent their lives in love and passion felt the same way as the poet in their later years. Though he initially appears to be angered by the inevitable onset of old age, he eventually unifies in the final section, where he delivers his "Will" or "Political Testament."

William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

Form and Structure of The Tower

'The Tower' is a poem that defies categorisation. The lines and stanzas are of different lengths. The poem is broken into three pieces structurally. The first section, which is 17 lines long and serves as an exposition, discusses the poet's discomfort with growing old. The second half, which consists of 13 eight-line stanzas, affirms and challenges the lives of those who came before him. In the second section, he used the rhyme scheme "AABBCDDC," as he did in his earlier poems "Byzantium" and "Prayer for my daughter." The poet's passive approach to old age and death is expressed in the third section, which consists of four stanzas of various lengths.

Analysis of The Tower

Section I

What shall I do with this absurdity —

( . . . )

A sort of battered kettle at the heel.

The poet's discontent with old age is explored in the first portion of the poem 'The Tower.' He expresses the contrast between his ancient body and his young spirit with a worried tone. His dissatisfaction is expressed in the image, in which he compares old age to an annoyance linked to a dog's tail. With the passage of time, the poet's eyes and ears, imagination, and passions grow stronger. He considers them to be a more powerful feeling to combat. He also feels that the moment has arrived for him to put poetry behind him and read Plato and Plotinus. Otherwise, he fears that his name will be dragged through the dirt.

Section II

Lines 1 – 25

I pace upon the battlements and stare

On the foundations of a house, or where

( . . . )

Clipped an insolent farmer’s ears

And brought them in a little covered dish.

The second section of 'The Tower' is the poem's longest and most fascinating section. It discusses the fading aristocratic ideal, which the poet also addresses in another poem, A Prayer for My Daughter. As the part begins, the poet is pacing on the Tower's battlements, staring at the nearby trees and inquiring about the ups and downs they have seen. He recounts a period when Mrs. French, who lived near the tower and was highly aristocratic, had her desire granted by her dedicated followers even before she could talk.

Lines 26 – 57

Some few remembered still when I was young

A peasant girl commended by a song,

( . . . )

One inextricable beam,

For if I triumph I must make men mad.

Between lines 26 and 57, the poet recalls a peasant girl he heard about when he was a child. Mary Hynes' beauty was admired, and many people sang songs about her. Raftery, a blind poet, is one of them. In his songs, he praised her and claimed that if she went to a fair, the farmers would crowd around her to get a glimpse of her. People who read or heard about her beauty through his poems were forced to seek her out. The poet is puzzled as to how a blind guy could imagine the beauty of a girl so clearly. But he is convinced when he considers Homer's capturing of Helen's beauty, which became a cause for many.

Lines 58 – 73

And I myself created Hanrahan

And drove him drunk or sober through the dawn

( . . . )

Hanrahan rose in frenzy there

And followed up those baying creatures towards —

In lines 58 to 73, the poet discusses the character Hanrahan, which he created. Throughout the dawn, he transformed him into a drunk or sober man. He "stumbled, tumbled, fumbled" and fractured his knees as a result of "the dreadful splendour of his desire." He remembers writing about Hanrahan twenty-five years ago. The old juggleries make him follow a magical hare, when he should have gone to meet his beloved Mary Lavelle. They made him chase the "baying creatures," delaying his departure and tryst.

Lines 74 – 105

O towards I have forgotten what — enough!

I must recall a man that neither love

( . . . )

Go therefore; but leave Hanrahan,

For I need all his mighty memories.

The poet discusses persons who could not be cheered by love, music, or the joy of revenge in lines 74 to 105. These people are unhappy not only during their lives but also when they die. One such individual, according to the poet, was formerly the owner of the Tower, which now belongs to him. As he ponders the wonders, he considers whether all of the people he discussed earlier were as sad as the poet in their later years.

Lines 106 – 121

Old lecher with a love on every wind,

Bring up out of that deep considering mind

( . . . )

And that if memory recur, the sun’s

Under eclipse and the day blotted out.

The poet examines "the old lecher," Hanrahan, the character he created, in the final two stanzas of the second half. "Does the imagination linger the most/Upon a lady won or woman lost?" he asks. As he questions him, he recalls his own hopeless love for Maud Gonne and knows that imagination is drawn to the woman who has vanished. "The day is blotted out" when the memory of the woman one couldn't have is revived. The poet closes the piece by stating that unrequited love or the loss of a lady elicits intense feelings. The cause of defeat is frequently either a lack of courage or "some stupid oversubtle notion."

Section III

It is time that I wrote my will;

I choose upstanding men

( . . . )

Or a bird’s sleepy cry

Among the deepening shades.

The final section of 'The Tower' depicts the poet's mental transformation and acceptance of old age. In this part, the short lines represent his calmer ideas. He declares his desire to have his will written. And the first thing he wants to pass down to the next generation is his pride. He defends brave people like Burke and Grattan who were not beholden to any state cause. He also claims that he has nothing good to say about Plotinus and Plato, whom he despises. The poet, like Faust before him, considers the mind's infinite power. As a result, Yeats decides to make amends with his age through works of art, poetic imaginings, and love memories.


W. B. Yeats was one of the most profound English poets of twentieth century literature. His poems are embellished with symbols and underlying meanings. This poem elaborates on the process of growing old and details the poet's life, work and legacy. We hope you have enjoyed reading this poetic piece and also understood the theme and summary of ‘The Tower’. To read more of such interesting poems and stories on animals, moral values, etc., visit our website today and discover from our huge collection.

Want to read offline? download full PDF here
Download full PDF
Is this page helpful?
Courses for kids
English Superstar
Grade LKG - 2
Maths Classes
Grade 1 - 2
Spoken English
Grade 3 - 5

FAQs on The Tower Poem by William Butler Yeats

1. Who was W. B. Yeats?

On June 13, 1865, William Butler Yeats, the eldest son of John Butler Yeats, was born. He was a major figure in twentieth-century literature. He was a founding member of the Abbey Theatre. Many prominent poets of the day praised him for his outstanding contribution to poetry. Prior to his death on January 28, 1939, he spent two terms as a Senator of the Irish Free State.

2. Who is the writer of the poem ‘The Tower’?

William Butler Yeats is the composer of the poem ‘The Tower’.