Before The World Was Made

These verses are found in Yeats’s collection of poems published in 1933 entitled “The Winding Stair and Other Poems”.  Before the world was made” is found in the section called: “A Woman Young and Old”.  During the 1920s and 1930s, when a number of studies of Zen- Buddhism had been published, Yeats had become increasingly convinced by Eastern philosophy.  He believed that, in each individual, there was a split between the spirit and the intellect, which divides us from our true selves and leaves us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled.  We have to seek therefore to restore this unity by finding our true selves, which are primordial at the depth of our beings.

The woman in the poem tells us that she is seeking her true face, because, it is only when lovers join at the primordial level that they can make the essential connection and enjoy genuine warmth of love.

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Before The World Was Made

 William Butler Yeats


If I make the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity's displayed:
I'm looking for the face I had
Before the world was made.

What if I look upon a man
As though on my beloved,
And my blood be cold the while
And my heart unmoved?
Why should he think me cruel
Or that he is betrayed?
I'd have him love the thing that was
Before the world was made.


Si je me rends les cils plus noirs
Et les yeux plus vifs
Et les lèvres plus écarlates,
Ou demande si tout va bien
De miroir après miroir,
Aucune vanité n’est affichée:
Je cherche le visage que j’'avais
Avant que le monde ait été fait.

Suppose- je considère un homme
Comme mon bien-aimé,
Et mon sang est froid tout le temps

Et mon cœur indifférent?
Pourquoi devrait-il m’estimer cruel
Ou penser qu'il est trahi?
Moi je lui ferais aimer la chose qui était
Avant que le monde ait été fait