Yeats asks whether a mother would regret having her child if she could envision
the child as a sixty-year-old scarecrow?
In the fifth stanza, Yeats projects an image of a Madonna-like mother: fulfilled, young and fertile. He asks: what if she could look forward and see her son as a withered old man? Would the pain and worry of child bearing be worth the result?
What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation had betrayed,
And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,
Would think her son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?
Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
Solider Aristotle played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.
Both nuns and mothers worship images,
But those the candles light are not as those
That animate a mothers reveries,
But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
And yet they too break hearts - O Presences
That passion, piety or affection knows,
And that all heavenly glory symbolise -
O self-born mockers of mans enterprise;