A Drinking Song

423px-WeinWeibUGesangWilliam Butler Yeats was one of Ireland’s most famous poets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I came across (discovered without trying to find it) a short poem of his that made me smile, and I hope will do the same for you.

It’s called “A Drinking Song,” but unlike most drinking songs, it is not meant to be sung while you are drinking beer with your buddies (friends) at the bar or pub. Instead, the “drinking” refers to the first image of the poem.

A Drinking Song
By W.B. Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

The poem begins noting (remarking; observing) that wine comes in at the mouth. To come in here simply means to enter. Wine enters your body through your mouth.

Yeats then compares this to how love “comes in” to you: “And love comes in at the eye.” We typically fall in love (at least many do) because we like the way someone looks – his or her beauty. And since we see with our eyes, love “enters” us through the eyes the same way wine “comes in” at the mouth.

And, of course, both a good glass of wine and the sight of a beautiful woman were, for Yeats, pleasurable things.

Then Yeats tells us that this simple truth, this simple fact, is “all we shall (will) know for truth (for sure; with certainty)” before we “grow old (get older) and die.”

Yeats ends by lifting (raising; bring up) his glass of wine to his mouth, and looking at “you,” the person to whom he has written this poem. “I look at you,” Yeats says, and “I sigh.” To sigh means to breathe out without saying anything, but making a small noise when you do. We usually sigh when we are sad or disappointed about something.

But it is also possible that Yeats’s sigh is one of relief, of being happy that something he feared or hoped might not be true really is true, and so now he is content (satisfied; at peace).

Which is Yeats – sad or happy at the sight of his love? If the woman in the poem loves him back, surely (of course) he will be happy.


P.S. The 19th century illustration (drawing) seen above has the expression, “[He] who does not love wine, woman, and song/Will be a fool (idiot; stupid) for his lifelong (for his entire life).”

Photo credit: Kimmel and Voigt, 1873, PD



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24 Responses to A Drinking Song

  1. hubert says:

    After few glasses of wine he will be happy for sure. No matter with or without her love.

  2. sutisha says:

    Dear Jeff,

    Knowledge comes in as learned
    Wider and farther to visualize I can;
    That now I know for truth,
    There is no end edifying experience
    No delay, I touch my computer mouse,
    To tell how delighted to become a student again

    It’sure this is not a drinking song … but could I call
    this piece a ‘poem’? -The first one after I graduated
    high school.

    Thank you Jeff. I have visited Wikipedia many times,
    but never once at ‘Drinking Songs’. I collect a lot more
    interesting factual information. You enlarge my small
    world. How erudite you are!


  3. parviz says:

    Hi Jeff,
    It is an extraordinary poem and expression that Love, woman and wine together. it makes me smile to.
    Thanks very much.

  4. Betty says:

    Dear Jeff

    Thank you for always trying to make us laugh.

    This short poem of William Butler Yeats’ did make you smile, and it certainly has done the same for me.

    It might not be as funny if I simply read it myself.

    Reading your explanation about the peom has help creating a picture of the man holding a glass of wine. He must be half drunk!

    Some men like alcohol and beautiful women. But they can’t have both at the same time!

    Once I knew a very beautiful and elegant woman who was forced to keep giving her husband more and more strong alcohol until he collapsed and no longer posed a threat to her. She could then sneak out and enjoy life herself.

    Thank you again, Jeff, I want to tell you the same that sutisha told you:

    “No delay, I touch my computer mouse,
    To tell how delighted to become a student again”.

    Best Regards

    Betty 🙂

  5. Giovanni says:

    There’s another big similarity between wine and love. If you don’t stop from drinking wine you’ll become drunk and so you’ll have to puke in order to return to be a healthy man.
    If you don’t stop from falling in love you’ll get married, so you’ll become a husband and you’ll have to divorce in order to return to be a healthy man. 😉


  6. Peter says:

    Hi chief,
    I m wondering What verse of the poem u found funny ?
    You know, the poem ends with a certain amount of ambiguity. The poet never mention why he sighs as he seeps his drink.
    In Fact , The poet leaves the reader hanging in the sense that they interpret the ending based on their own perspective rather point of view.
    I believe , that is why the poet never mentions at the end at whom or what is he sighing.
    It might be about admiring beauty as you said, it might be grief or sadness,it might be a financial empase , or simply a burning desire. See, it could take totally different concept depending the angle the readers come from to it.
    there is no right or Wong answer here.
    You believe the poem emphasizes love . And I saw it more generally as a sign of sadness and grief rather a fleeting escape from the reality. You have a passing mention of sadness but , I think the post interpretation of the poem weighs more in love than sorrow.
    But , it is just me.
    I , for one, never found the poem funny

    Thanks boss,


  7. Peter says:

    My dear professor Jeff,
    I must say , I really enjoyed both lectures on the latest English coffee about Mr,Fischer and The band “kiss” respectively. Both lessons were quite charming!!


  8. Dan says:

    To tell you the truth guys I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages almost a year ago now.
    And besides that I am not in love. A part from my Princess.


  9. hubert says:

    Giovanni, it seems like you have interesting experiences. Tell us your story.

  10. sutisha says:

    Taste of wine, heart that cries
    Bring sigh and sigh to a man.
    Sipping wine, keeping eyes on
    Her walking hand in hand with a guy;
    How many glasses of wine and sighs
    Before the night passes by?

    Dear Jeff,

    I just wanna tell you I am so blissful spending time
    with ESL Podcast, English Cafe, and this nice Blog.
    Thank you.



    Dear Betty,

    I appreciate your way of living sufficiently -as your response to
    Believing in Prediction-. I very like your nice thinking about simple
    life with peace of mind.


  11. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Sutisha, I think you have to mention the author of these wonderful lyrics.
    Maybe are you this nice poet?

  12. Tania says:

    Hi! Peter is right.
    William Butler Yeats was influenced by French Symbolism and he was a Symbolist poet.
    The poets use images or objects with symbolic meaning.
    And we can imagine everything depending on our feelings.
    It is easy to lift a glass of wine and be happy, but to fall in love…I don’t know and sigh.
    We associate the wine with feeling of happiness.

  13. Tania says:

    Hi! And T.S.Eliot and William Butler Yeats met Ezra Pound. Who was Ezra Pound?
    An American symbolist poet. But? We would like to know more about him.

  14. Tania says:

    “Man is in love and loves
    what vanishes,
    What more is there to say?”

    William Butler Yeats Quotes

  15. Tania says:

    “But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

    William Butler Yeats Quotes

  16. emiliano says:

    Thank you Tania, I do think you are right as reading again the poem
    it is easier for me to get the gist now.

    Don´t you think it is just a little pesimist or sceptical comparing love
    with wine.
    It seems to me he is taking love from the girl the same way he could
    drink a cup of god wine.
    To him in his poem the two actions are so ephemeral that is better
    to enjoy life as much as possible before dying.

    Thinking the same way like the poem it is sure that Cuca or emiliano
    doesn´t be together for such a long time.
    I do like wine a lot but I have been nearly twenty years without drinking
    a drop.
    Just the same feeling seeing a nice beautiful woman or girl but if making love
    with her is so short like drinking a glass of wine just because life is short
    I prefer to be with my real love that to taste a cup of wine after another.

    Along life there are a lot of oportunities of tasting different cups of good
    nice wine but I do prefer the one I like more and don´t regret not having
    tasting such a lot of …..loves?…Ja, ja, …yes that´s my real truth.

    It seems to me Yeats has another that of course I respect.

    My best to you dear Tania, our nicer poetise.

    Congratulations also to Sutisha, did you write the poems?
    If you did, it seems to me that here in this Blog there are a lot of poets
    as emiliano-gatufo writes also poems but in Spanish.


  17. sutisha says:

    Dear Tania,

    Thanks a lot for retrieving me from the third poem I am to write.
    I do no mention to the author for the reason that I haven’t got
    right words to do, but really admire his fascinating insights to depict
    a mood of a man while he is relishing sweet wine and at the same
    time his heart is on fire.


    Hi, Emiliano

    I did write the poems as when I read that very nice of William Butler Yeats’,
    it seemed like I was seeing eye to eye with the man in the poem for a second.!!
    And to be honest, I would like to edit the first line of my number two poem
    to be ‘Taste of wine, love deep in mind’ What do you consider it?

    By the way, I just got to know that excellent Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize
    in 1921. He also got other several prizes.


  18. sutisha says:

    Hi! Emiliano,

    Just to say thank you for your congratulations,


  19. Giovanni says:

    Hi Hubert ,
    Actually when I was younger I had had some wifes, but this is another (and expensive) story.


  20. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you, dear Sutisha. Thank you, dear Emiliano.
    I think we all love the poetry… a simple way to feel happy.

  21. Tania says:

    Hi! Reading about William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) I thought it was about another poet John Keats (1795 -1821).
    I have read some Yeats’poems…but there is a certain sadness in his poems…
    “a man young and old”, “And now , being grey,/ I dream that I have brought/…..When I was young.”, “a meditation upon death”…
    And the poem “Are You Content?” with the conclusion

    “But I am not content”.

  22. Tania says:

    Still, I like these lyrics from “Demon and Beast”:

    “Between my hatred and desire
    I saw my freedom won
    And all laugh in the sun.”

  23. Tania says:

    Hi! I like to discover together new poets. Thank you.

  24. Ferman Golla says:

    Hi, Prof..
    Nice poem though…;)
    for me, wine and love = desire or passion. When I can not reach one of them I just make SIGH……
    Best love

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