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Poetry - Change


Lao Tzu (6th Century BC), All Things Pass  Poetry - Change

The Chinese philosopher (pictured right) reminds us that everything is constantly changing:

All things pass

A sunrise does not last all morning

All things pass

A cloudburst does not last all day

All things pass

(first five lines)



W. B. Yeats (1856-1939),The Second Coming (1921)

Poetry - ChangeThe Irish poet (pictured right),describes how civilized order can change into immoral chaos (gyre in the first line means whirl):


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

(first verse)


Good people:

  • don't fight for what's right (the best lack all conviction, line 7).
  • let the bad guys (full of passionate intensity, last line) take over.

People are led by the “Second Coming” of a new evil messiah (a “rough beast” at the end of the poem).



W. B. Yeats  Long-Legged Fly (1939)


In this poem Yeats emphasizes the importance of putting thought into action in times of change.

Yeats says the Roman general, Caesar, and the Italian artist, Michelangelo, are both brilliant, because:


Like a long-legged fly upon the stream

His mind moves upon silence (lines 9 and 10).



W. B. Yeats, The Great Day (1938)

In this poem Yeats describes the human cost of revolutionary change and in the last line wryly observes that the oppressed can easily become the oppressors.

Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!

A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.

Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!

The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

(complete poem).


Robert Frost (1874-1963), The Road Not Taken (1916)Poetry - Change 

Frost's (pictured right) last three lines are some of the most famous in American poetry:


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Many people interpret this literally, saying that you should;

  • be a non-conformist.
  • take the road (or life choices) that few others have chosen.

But earlier in the poem he tells the reader that he has:

  • taken both roads in the past.
  • worn them really about the same (line 10).

You can often:

  • rationalize (convincing yourself something's right when it isn't). 
  • make excuses for taking the easier option.

We can’t always be a hero.


Robert Frost, The Black Cottage (1914)

In this poem Frost says we can exaggerate change.


Most of the change we think we see in life

Is due to truths being in and out of favour.

(lines 109 and 110)


Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), The Way Through the Woods (1899)

The English poet refers to the loss of purpose and direction caused by a devastating event (in Kipling’s case the death of his son in the First World War):

There is no road through the woods (the poem’s last line).



William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), Mutation (1824) Poetry - Change

The American poet  (pictured right) says that we should welcome change:


Weep not that the world changes — did it keep

A stable changeless state, 'twere cause indeed to weep.

(last two lines)


Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), Everything ChangesPoetry - Change 

The German poet's (pictured right) last verse shows you must “make a fresh start”, accepting:

  • your past.
  • the inevitability of change.

What has happened has happened. The water

You once poured into the wine cannot be

Drained off again, but

Everything changes. You can make

A fresh start with your final breath.

(second and last verse)


Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), The Burning of the LeavesPoetry - Change 

Nothing is certain, Binyon (pictured right)  says, except the cycle of nature:


They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise

From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,

And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;

The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.

Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.

Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.

(last verse)


Emily Brontë (1818-48), The Night Is Darkening Around Me (1837)Poetry - Change

The English poet and author of Wuthering Heights (pictured right):

  • is surrounded by chaos.

  • tries to find her own way out.

In the last line, she refers to 

  • “I will not...(her will not to be moved by nothing drear, or dismal, in the penultimate line)

  • “...cannot go” (driven by circumstances beyond her control). 


The night is darkening round me,

The wild winds coldly blow;

But a tyrant spell has bound me,

And I cannot, cannot go.


The giant trees are bending

Their bare boughs weighed with snow;

The storm is fast descending,

And yet I cannot go.


Clouds beyond clouds above me,

Wastes beyond wastes below;

But nothing drear can move me;

I will not, cannot go.

 (complete poem)

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