William Butler Yeats

To a Young Girl by William Butler Yeats

‘To a Young Girl’ by William Butler Yeats is a poem about a past love and how lovers know one another better than anyone else. 

The poem is written in simple language that makes reading it a fairly easy task. The speaker, a man, directs the lines of the poem to a young girl with who he used to be in a relationship with. It’s unclear whether or not the two are on speaking terms at this point, but it seems unlikely since she still seems to be under the sway of her mother’s direction. ‘To a Young Girl’ is filled with passion for past love and disappointment in the young girl’s refusal to acknowledge what the two once shared.

To a Young Girl
William Butler Yeats 

My dear, my dear, I know
More than another
What makes your heart beat so;
Not even your own mother
Can know it as I know,
Who broke my heart for her
When the wild thought,
That she denies
And has forgot,
Set all her blood astir
And glittered in her eyes.
to a young girl by william butler yeats


Summary

To a Young Girl’ by William Butler Yeats is a short poem addressed to a speaker’s ex-lover, a young girl.

The speaker describes his relationship with the young girl in the first lines. He knows things about her that no one else does, not even her mother. This is an important comparison because it was on her mother’s direction that the young girl ended their relationship. Still, he knows that she once loved him, even if she denies it today. 

Structure and Form 

To a Young Girl’ by William Butler Yeats is an eleven-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABABABCDCDEC. This pattern, which uses numerous perfect rhymes, benefits the reader’s overall experience with the piece’s rhythm.

The lines do not follow a single metrical pattern instead they vary in length. But, they do not feel uncoordinated at all. In fact, they carry a sing-song-like rhythm throughout. The lines rhyme at the perfect times allowing the speaker’s words to carry as much force as they can.

Literary Devices 

Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “dear” repeated twice in the first line and “More” and “makes” in lines two and three. 
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three as well as lines six and seven.
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “When the wild thought.” 


Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-5

My dear, my dear, I know

More than another

What makes your heart beat so;

Not even your own mother

Can know it as I know,

In the first lines of ‘To a Young Girl,’ the speaker begins by calling the “young girl” he loves his “dear.” This is repeated twice before he tells her, with no hesitation, that he knows her better than anyone else. What makes her heart “beat so” is within his knowledge, not her mother’s or anyone else’s. There is a great deal of passion in these lines. The speaker’s tone is direct and filled with his understanding of his past lover. This is further emphasized through the poet’s use of a perfect rhyme with the endings “so” and “know.”

There are examples of repetition and rhyme within the lines of the poem that help to convey the speaker’s message. They also make the poem feel song-like and musical. This is seen through the repetition of “know” and “dear” in these first five lines. 

Lines 6-11 

Who broke my heart for her

When the wild thought,

That she denies

And has forgot,

Set all her blood astir

And glittered in her eyes.

In the next part of the poem, the speaker says that only he knows “it” as it can be known. The young girl, who loved the speaker (and who the speaker loved), broke his heart for her mother. This suggests that her mother was against the two seeing one another, and now, she denies that the passion between the two had ever existed. She “denies” that he ever “Set all her blood astir” or “glittered in her eyes.” 

The love affair is in the past for the girl. But, the male speaker feels very differently. He may know he can’t change what’s happening now. But, he refuses to set his love to the side entirely or forget they ever cared for one another.

The use of words like “astir” and “glittered” in these last lines helps the poem feel lively and passionate. “Astir” suggests that the young girl’s perspective on the world and everything down to her most inner self were altered by her emotions. Her love for him moved her blood it was so strong. The word “wild” furthers this. There was something outside the ordinary about their relationship. The mother’s rejection of her daughter’s relationship emphasizes this. They shouldn’t, in the mother’s eyes be together. This is likely making the entire relationship feel more powerful than it was before.

FAQs 

What is the theme of ‘To a Young Girl?’ 

The themes of this piece are knowledge and passion. The speaker has both for the young girl who broke his heart. He knows her inner secrets and the fact that she once loved him. Although there is nothing he can do to alter her decision, he is bothered by the fact that she’s pretending their love never existed.

What is the purpose of ‘To a Young Girl?’ 

The purpose is to reveal to the listener, the young girl, that he still knows her better than anyone else. He has a certain control and power in her life because no one, not even her mother, who she broke up with him on the direction of, knows about her. 

Who is the speaker of ‘To a Young Girl?’ 

The speaker is a man who had his heartbroken by the intended listener, the “young girl.” The poem is directed to her. She broke up with him on the direction of her mother, who didn’t like the speaker in her daughter’s life. The details of their relationship are not included in the short piece.

What is the tone of ‘To a Young Girl?’ 

The tone is passionate. The speaker is looking back on a relationship he had and directing his words to his previous lover. He does not seem particularly mournful. Instead, he seems more interested in expressing his knowledge of her most intimate secrets. He is asserting their love to her while she is denying it.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other William Butler Yeats poems. For example: 

  • A Coat’ – describes the poet’s own writing practice through the metaphor of an embroidered coat.
  • A Prayer for my Daughter’ – speaks about the poet’s family. It demonstrates his concern and anxiety over the future wellbeing and prospects of his daughter, Anne.
  • Adam’s Curse’ – a moving poem about the presence, or lack thereof, of beauty and true love in the world.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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