Collected Poems, by William Butler Yeats

From The Tower (1928)

Meditations in Time of Civil War

I
Ancestral Houses

SURELY among a rich man s flowering lawns,

Amid the rustle of his planted hills,

Life overflows without ambitious pains;

And rains down life until the basin spills,

And mounts more dizzy high the more it rains

As though to choose whatever shape it wills

And never stoop to a mechanical

Or servile shape, at others’ beck and call.

Mere dreams, mere dreams! Yet Homer had not Sung

Had he not found it certain beyond dreams

That out of life’s own self-delight had sprung

The abounding glittering jet; though now it seems

As if some marvellous empty sea-shell flung

Out of the obscure dark of the rich streams,

And not a fountain, were the symbol which

Shadows the inherited glory of the rich.

Some violent bitter man, some powerful man

Called architect and artist in, that they,

Bitter and violent men, might rear in stone

The sweetness that all longed for night and day,

The gentleness none there had ever known;

But when the master’s buried mice can play.

And maybe the great-grandson of that house,

For all its bronze and marble, ’s but a mouse.

O what if gardens where the peacock strays

With delicate feet upon old terraces,

Or else all Juno from an urn displays

Before the indifferent garden deities;

O what if levelled lawns and gravelled ways

Where slippered Contemplation finds his ease

And Childhood a delight for every sense,

But take our greatness with our violence?

What if the glory of escutcheoned doors,

And buildings that a haughtier age designed,

The pacing to and fro on polished floors

Amid great chambers and long galleries, lined

With famous portraits of our ancestors;

What if those things the greatest of mankind

Consider most to magnify, or to bless,

But take our greatness with our bitterness?

II
My House

An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower,

A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall,

An acre of stony ground,

Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,

Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable,

The sound of the rain or sound

Of every wind that blows;

The stilted water-hen

Crossing Stream again

Scared by the splashing of a dozen cows;

A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone,

A grey stone fireplace with an open hearth,

A candle and written page.

Il Penseroso’s Platonist toiled on

In some like chamber, shadowing forth

How the daemonic rage

Imagined everything.

Benighted travellers

From markets and from fairs

Have seen his midnight candle glimmering.

Two men have founded here. A man-at-arms

Gathered a score of horse and spent his days

In this tumultuous spot,

Where through long wars and sudden night alarms

His dwindling score and he seemed castaways

Forgetting and forgot;

And I, that after me

My bodily heirs may find,

To exalt a lonely mind,

Befitting emblems of adversity.

III
My Table

Two heavy trestles, and a board

Where Sato’s gift, a changeless sword,

By pen and paper lies,

That it may moralise

My days out of their aimlessness.

A bit of an embroidered dress

Covers its wooden sheath.

Chaucer had not drawn breath

When it was forged. In Sato’s house,

Curved like new moon, moon-luminous

It lay five hundred years.

Yet if no change appears

No moon; only an aching heart

Conceives a changeless work of art.

Our learned men have urged

That when and where ’twas forged

A marvellous accomplishment,

In painting or in pottery, went

From father unto son

And through the centuries ran

And seemed unchanging like the sword.

Soul’s beauty being most adored,

Men and their business took

Me soul’s unchanging look;

For the most rich inheritor,

Knowing that none could pass Heaven’s door,

That loved inferior art,

Had such an aching heart

That he, although a country’s talk

For silken clothes and stately walk.

Had waking wits; it seemed

Juno’s peacock screamed.

IV
My Descendants

Having inherited a vigorous mind

From my old fathers, I must nourish dreams

And leave a woman and a man behind

As vigorous of mind, and yet it seems

Life scarce can cast a fragrance on the wind,

Scarce spread a glory to the morning beams,

But the torn petals strew the garden plot;

And there’s but common greenness after that.

And what if my descendants lose the flower

Through natural declension of the soul,

Through too much business with the passing hour,

Through too much play, or marriage with a fool?

May this laborious stair and this stark tower

Become a roofless min that the owl

May build in the cracked masonry and cry

Her desolation to the desolate sky.

The primum Mobile that fashioned us

Has made the very owls in circles move;

And I, that count myself most prosperous,

Seeing that love and friendship are enough,

For an old neighbour’s friendship chose the house

And decked and altered it for a girl’s love,

And know whatever flourish and decline

These stones remain their monument and mine.

V
The Road at My Door

An affable Irregular,

A heavily-built Falstaffian man,

Comes cracking jokes of civil war

As though to die by gunshot were

The finest play under the sun.

A brown Lieutenant and his men,

Half dressed in national uniform,

Stand at my door, and I complain

Of the foul weather, hail and rain,

A pear-tree broken by the storm.

I count those feathered balls of soot

The moor-hen guides upon the stream.

To silence the envy in my thought;

And turn towards my chamber, caught

In the cold snows of a dream.

VI
The Stare’s Nest by My Window

The bees build in the crevices

Of loosening masonry, and there

The mother birds bring grubs and flies.

My wall is loosening; honey-bees,

Come build in the empty house of the state.

We are closed in, and the key is turned

On our uncertainty; somewhere

A man is killed, or a house burned,

Yet no cleat fact to be discerned:

Come build in he empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;

Some fourteen days of civil war;

Last night they trundled down the road

That dead young soldier in his blood:

Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,

The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;

More Substance in our enmities

Than in our love; O honey-bees,

Come build in the empty house of the stare.

VII
I see Phantoms of Hatred and of the Heart’s Fullness and of the Coming Emptiness

I climb to the tower-top and lean upon broken stone,

A mist that is like blown snow is sweeping over all,

Valley, river, and elms, under the light of a moon

That seems unlike itself, that seems unchangeable,

A glittering sword out of the east. A puff of wind

And those white glimmering fragments of the mist sweep by.

Frenzies bewilder, reveries perturb the mind;

Monstrous familiar images swim to the mind’s eye.

“Vengeance upon the murderers,’ the cry goes up,

“Vengeance for Jacques Molay.’ In cloud-pale rags, or in lace,

The rage-driven, rage-tormented, and rage-hungry troop,

Trooper belabouring trooper, biting at arm or at face,

Plunges towards nothing, arms and fingers spreading wide

For the embrace of nothing; and I, my wits astray

Because of all that senseless tumult, all but cried

For vengeance on the murderers of Jacques Molay.

Their legs long, delicate and slender, aquamarine their eyes,

Magical unicorns bear ladies on their backs.

The ladies close their musing eyes. No prophecies,

Remembered out of Babylonian almanacs,

Have closed the ladies’ eyes, their minds are but a pool

Where even longing drowns under its own excess;

Nothing but stillness can remain when hearts are full

Of their own sweetness, bodies of their loveliness.

The cloud-pale unicorns, the eyes of aquamarine,

The quivering half-closed eyelids, the rags of cloud or of lace,

Or eyes that rage has brightened, arms it has made lean,

Give place to an indifferent multitude, give place

To brazen hawks. Nor self-delighting reverie,

Nor hate of what’s to come, nor pity for what’s gone,

Nothing but grip of claw, and the eye’s complacency,

The innumerable clanging wings that have put out the moon.

I turn away and shut the door, and on the stair

Wonder how many times I could have proved my worth

In something that all others understand or share;

But O! ambitious heart, had such a proof drawn forth

A company of friends, a conscience set at ease,

It had but made us pine the more. The abstract joy,

The half-read wisdom of daemonic images,

Suffice the ageing man as once the growing boy.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:50