Has Sorrow Thy Young Days Shaded is a lament for the passing of youth and all the joy and hope that goes with being young.
It was written by Thomas Moore, one of Ireland’s greatest poets and songwriters.
Moore’s lyric is written as if he is asking questions of a young companion. Each question relates to the passing of time and the loss of hope.
Moore empathises with the companion’s sorrows at the fading of youth and offers to weep with him “tear for tear”.
It means that Moore is effectively recounting his own feelings and experiences after seeing them reflected in someone else. He has felt those joys and sorrows and he too laments their passing.
The first verse introduces the theme of the passing of youth as he asks “has sorrow thy young days shaded”.
He reflects that when a person is young, even sorrow can seem sweet – at least, when looked back on years later. Moore was too deep a writer, however, just to produce a piece of nostalgia.
The song also examines how things important in youth can turn out to be false trails and not so vital once they’re looked at more closely over time.
He gets this idea across with a topical reference to the Lagenian mine. This was an area in Co Wicklow in Ireland which caused excitement when traces of gold were discovered on the surface. However, when workmen probed deeper there was little of value to be found.
Moore also examines how hope, which is so plentiful in youth, can turn out be illusory and fade as we get older. He puts this idea across with a reference to The Arabian Nights. It has a story in which a bird takes an icon or talisman which is desired by a prince.
The prince could see the talisman in the bird’s mouth as it flitted from tree to tree, but as soon as he drew near the bird flew away and he could never reach it.
Moore uses the bird as a symbol of his hopes; he can nearly achieve them but just when they’re “nearest and most inviting,” they’re taken away.
The song ends with Moore again asking his companion if his hopes have faded and his youth has sped by in this way. If so, Moore says, “I’ll weep with the tear for tear”.
The song is typical of Moore’s work in that it is deep yet accessible and says so much in only four verses.
Moore’s poem was later set to the old Irish melody, Sly Patrick.