Brown Penny by William Butler Yeats

Nobel laureate W. B. Yeats in this coming-of-age poem ‘Brown Penny’ introduces us with a character who wants to fall in love but is unsure if he should. Although he finds himself tangled in the hair of his love-interest, however, he still questions his maturity and decides to toss a coin.

Brown Penny


I whispered, ‘I am too young,’
And then, ‘I am old enough’;
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
‘Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.’
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.

O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

Analysis of Yeats’ “Brown Penny”

Written by William Butler Yeats, “Brown Penny” was a part of The Green Helmet and Other Poems, which is his volume of poems, in the year 1910. In this coming-of-age poem, the speaker finds himself in a topsy-turvy situation as he questions himself if he is ready to experience and understand love. To find an answer, he resolves to childish means by flipping a coin.

The penny then replies exactly what he wanted to hear, urging him to follow his heart’s desires. The penny understands that the speaker is already infatuated with love, saying that he is entwined in his beloved’s hair. However, in the end he comes to the conclusion that love is a “crooked thing” and all our efforts to try to figure out love are futile as “there is nobody wise enough”.

The theme of this poem is love and the association of it with joy, doubt, uncertainty and fear. At the very beginning the speaker seems to be eager and desperate to find out if he should fall in love. The line – “wherefore I threw a penny” creates an image that suggests the tradition of throwing a penny down a wishing-well. Perhaps, finding an answer through logical means has failed him and that is why he has put his belief upon superstition.

Words such as “looped” and “crooked” highlights the confusion that the speaker is in. The speaker calls love “crooked”. At first it looked so inviting when he was entwined in the loops of the girl’s hair, but now as he has matured a bit, it seems that love is unpredictable and confusing. Brown penny is used here as a symbol of chance. Chance that people take when they decide to carry on with their infatuated hearts not knowing if they will fail – hoping they will succeed – they go with the flow just like the looping coin in flight.