Analysis of Brown Penny by William Butler Yeats

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William Butler Yeats was a writer of Irish descent. He was born in Ireland in 1865. He went on to become an accomplished poet and won the Nobel Prize for poetry. The poem “Brown Penny” was published in 1910 & appeared in a volume of poetry entitled, The Green Helmet & Other Poems.

Analysis of Brown Penny by William Butler Yeats

WB Yeats Brown Penny is a short poem dealing with the serious business of a young man considering falling in love. The young man, perhaps Yeats himself, tosses a coin the “brown penny”, to see if he is old enough to love. In an age wrought with superstitions, such an action may not have sounded as amusing as it does today. A poetry element Yeats really works within this poem is diction. His word choice is creative & unique. This implies a conflict within himself, but he uses “brown penny” as someone to converse with. The choice of using a penny is appropriate. The coin encourages him to “go and love” especially if the lady “be young & fair.” By flipping the penny, he is taking a chance. This is apparent since a “penny” is currency & invokes the image of gambling. This can be seen in the line “Wherefore I threw a penny.” This line can also be a symbol for wishing for love because the act of throwing a “penny” down a well has been a long-standing tradition of making a wish.

There is also a fair amount of repetition, “brown penny” is repeated over & over and adds to the flow of the poem. “Go and love” is also repeated several times, to show that it is an important line. “Looped in the loops of her hair,” is a great line that uses the word “loop” with two different meanings. Looped means to be entangled with this woman & also describes strands of her hair. Loop can also refer to the uncertainty in love. This is another way of expressing his affection for the woman.

The poet shows how difficult love can be it is not something that can be escaped. He shows more creativity in the second stanza with the lines “Till the stars had run away/ And the shadows eaten the moon.” These lines mean that love is not only a struggle but an eternal one. The major symbol in this poem is the “brown penny.” To find out whether or not he is in love, the man flips a penny. He takes a chance. That is what love is all about. People take chances when they commit or fall in love with someone. They don’t know how it’s going to end but they’re willing to risk their heart & lives for the sake of love. As with flipping a penny, the young man doesn’t know how it will land or what the future holds. But he risks it for love. The “penny” is an important symbol in the poem. In the culture in which Yeats grew up, the “penny” is a symbol of love for commoners. The reason for this is because love is something that is priceless. A common tradition of the period was to have a “Penny Wedding” where guests were expected to bring their own food.


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In contrast to the lightheartedness of the first verse, the second introduces a feeling of frustration at the immense power of love & it’s ability to deceive. “Love is the crooked thing,” he says, in other words, something that twists & turns, not in lovely loops like the lady’s hair but in an unpredictable way that can confuse. “Crooked” of course also implies dishonesty, so love is very much on the wrong side of the tracks in the verse. The poet has made it an enemy testing his wisdom. “There is nobody wise enough to find all that is in it,” is a despairing line commenting on the immensity of the task facing a young man encountering romance for the first time.

Today, perhaps love is a more transient thing, experienced easily & quickly abandoned if it fails. But, in Yeats time when propriety mattered & behavior was governed by religious beliefs, individuals had to think very carefully before entering a relationship, taking into careful consideration not only the possible uncomfortable results of difficult romance but also what other people thought. Falling in love promised a minefield of adverse social consequences. But it is not the social environment that concerns the poet here, it is the enigmatic quality of love that baffles him.

The world would end he says, before anyone, no matter how wise could understand it. Using the stars and the moon in this context is deliberately invoking the imagery of romantic poets of an earlier century, but giving it a more morbid twist. Still, far from putting off the young man, the size of the task before him only encourages him further. “one cannot begin it too soon” brings the poem back to its lighthearted beginning & leaves the reader with a wry smile. This is the fate of all mankind, that no matter how insurmountable the odds of finding true love are, all of us attempt it, time & time again. Given the unfathomable nature of the exercise, tossing a brown penny has a much chance of bringing us success in matters of love. “Brown Penny” is a unique yet an honest poem by Yeats. Unlike many love poems through history, it isn’t boring or generic. It uses the right amount of diction, repetition & symbolism to capture the meaning. Yeats showed the emotion of young love in an effective way. “Brown Penny” is an incredible poem by a talented man.

Brown Penny by William Butler Yeats Theme

The underlying theme of the poem deals with love. In “Brown Penny”, Yeats explores the question of love; especially in opening lines of the poem, the narrator is pondering whether he is in love with a lady or not. If love would take more than a lifetime (and more time than it would take for the world to end), then age is arguably no object, you can love at any age. The act of finding a penny is widely considered as a good omen or good luck in folklore, and so in using a “brown penny” as a motif in his poem, Yeats perhaps draws a parallel between the connotations of chance in finding a penny or throwing a penny into the fountain with the hope of falling in love himself.

The style of the poem is almost a whirling dance with words.  “Loops of hair” is very suggestive of wantonness. Hair is the archetypal symbol of sensuality & beauty. The meaning of the poem is about a man lost in love. The tone begins optimistically & changes to uncertainty. But in the end, it again bears the initial optimism. Thus, it encourages the reader to undertake the task of falling in love despite all the odds.

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