An Acre of Grass

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.


  1. The stanza ends with a final description of Michelangelo’s mind. An eagle is noted for its strength and keen eyesight. Another word for eyesight is “vision,” which in the context of the poem means imagination and creativity. Michelangelo, his mind strong and his artistic vision flourishing, continued to create works of art until a few days before his death at the age of eighty-eight. The speaker desires to emulate Michelangelo until the end of his own life and not be forgotten.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Alliteration is employed in the line with the repetition of the initial “S” sound in “shake” and “shrouds.” The alliteration is heightened by each of the words beginning with “sh,” as well. The sound device draws special attention to the dramatic image of moving even the dead with the power of poetry.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The repetition of “frenzy” underscores the idea that creativity is born of passion and a lack of artistic restraint in the pursuit of truth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The phrase, like the reference to beating on a wall in the previous stanza, suggests action and engagement, a sharp contrast to the passive acceptance that characterizes the speaker’s tone in the first two stanzas.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Circling back to the first line of the previous stanza, the speaker now identifies a specific thing he wishes to be granted, a mind like that of “Michael Angelo.” “Michael Angelo” is an allusion to Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Known simply as Michelangelo, he was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the Renaissance. His body of work, especially the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, reflects his genius and unparalleled artistic talent.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Blake was a mystic who sought to understand that which lies beyond the intellect; consequently, “the wall” can be interpreted as an indirect metaphor describing the barrier between physical reality and spiritual or cosmic truth. Capitalizing “Truth” emphasizes its importance, as many poets have considered the principal objective of poetry is to reveal truth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. William Blake (1757–1827), English poet, painter, and visionary, was a major influence in the Romantic movement in British literature. Since his youth, Yeats had admired Blake and studied his work. In 1893, Yeats and poet Edwin John Ellis published The Works of William Blake: Poetic, Symbolic and Critical, a three-volume collection of Blake’s poems with commentary.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. “Timon” is an allusion to the protagonist in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens; “Lear” is an allusion to King Lear, the protagonist in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear. Both characters are old men filled with rage; at the end of their lives, they refuse to passively accept their circumstances.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The rhymes in the ABCB scheme in the remainder of the poem are perfect rhymes: “remake,” “Blake,” “clouds,” and “shrouds,” while the rhymes in the first two stanzas are weak slant rhymes. The perfect rhymes add strength and a growing sense of power as the poem moves toward its conclusion.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. The two lines mark the volta or turn in the poem as the speaker’s tone changes dramatically from the tone of resignation in the first two stanzas. The word “frenzy” means uncontrolled, excited behavior or emotion. No longer contemplating what has been lost in old age and accepting the loss, he looks to the remainder of his life, intent upon reclaiming his creative powers.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. “Rag and bone” is an allusion to old clothes and other items, often junk, collected by a “rag-and-bone man,” someone who went throughout a town buying used goods to resell. The allusion implies that the speaker now has little of value in his mind or imagination to inspire creativity in revealing truth found in personal experience or regarding human existence.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. The speaker’s mind is described with an indirect metaphor, a figure of speech that describes one thing by implying that it is something quite different. The function of a mill is to grind grain into flour, thus creating something that had not existed before the milling process. The indirect metaphor suggests the creative process of the mind.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Creativity is born in the imagination; a “loose” imagination would be one that knows no bounds in formulating new concepts or in envisioning new images. The passage moves the poem away from the speaker’s failing physical body to the state of his mind.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. “Temptation” is the physical desire or urge to engage in a pleasurable activity that can be harmful in some way to one’s well-being. The speaker may be referring to a lack of sexual desire in old age, or he may be speaking generally of withdrawing from life’s physical pleasures.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. The lines may be interpreted as referring to the poem’s setting, midnight at Riversdale. However, “midnight” and “an old house” may symbolize the speaker’s life in old age. The lines suggest silence, solitude, and emptiness.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. The first reference to aging focuses on the physical, the speaker’s body. The word “goes” echoes the implication of loss in the first line.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. Yeats wrote the poem while living at Riversdale, a beautiful 18th-century farmhouse in Rathfarnham, a suburb of Dublin. Over time, the original five-acre estate was reduced to one acre of land. Yeats leased Riversdale, which proved to be his last family home, in 1932.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. The beginning of the poem has been interpreted in numerous ways, but the significance lies in what it implies: other things, whatever they are, have not remained; they are now gone. “Picture and book” may refer to specific possessions important to the speaker, or they may have symbolic meaning, such as the speaker’s continuing interest in the arts.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor