Yeats had specific people in his own life in mind when he wrote the following poem. Students of the man, and of his life and times have little difficulty in putting names to the persons alluded to.
It is easy for the average Journal reader of a certain age to turn his/her thoughts to fit the images to persons of his/her own acquaintance from the past. That’s how I read this poem! Like Yeats I identified myself with the mad old man!
Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of any unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell,
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.