What Does Alas Poor Yorick Mean?

Alas Poor Yorick Meaning

Definition: From Hamlet; refers to the fleeting nature of human life.

The phrase alas poor Yorick refers to the brevity of human life. It comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the scene in which it appears is one of Shakespeare’s most famous passages.

Origin of Alas Poor Yorick

In act 5, scene I of Hamlet, Hamlet is talking to a grave digger. The gravedigger picks up a skull and says it has been there for 23 years. Hamlet asks to whom it belonged, and the gravedigger says it belonged to Yorick, the court jester and childhood friend of Hamlet’s.

Hamlet cries,

hamlet alas poor yorickAlas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?

Alas Poor Yorick in Modern English

define alas poor yorickEnglish speakers do not use alas, poor Yorick! as an idiom or standalone phrase. Perhaps the only time an English speaker would say alas, poor Yorick! is in reference to Hamlet.

However, we were able to find an example from The New York Times using the hyphenated alas-poor-Yorick as an adjective:

  • But because the series of minute shape changes from wrapped to unwrapped is unavoidable, the work’s implications were tragic news for every alas-poor-Yorick moment of great drama.

This usage is uncommon, although the connection to the theater is clear here. Additionally, the phrase does not explicitly cite Shakespeare.


The phrase alas, poor Yorick is a declaration made by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It refers to the fleeting nature of human life.