Collected Poems

William Butler Yeats

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Table of Contents

From Crossways (1889)

The Song of the Happy Shepherd

THE woods of Arcady are dead,

And over is their antique joy;

Of old the world on dreaming fed;

Grey Truth is now her painted toy;

Yet still she turns her restless head:

But O, sick children of the world,

Of all the many changing things

In dreary dancing past us whirled,

To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,

Words alone are certain good.

Where are now the warring kings,

Word be-mockers? — By the Rood,

Where are now the warring kings?

An idle word is now their glory,

By the stammering schoolboy said,

Reading some entangled story:

The kings of the old time are dead;

The wandering earth herself may be

Only a sudden flaming word,

In clanging space a moment heard,

Troubling the endless reverie.

Then nowise worship dusty deeds,

Nor seek, for this is also sooth,

To hunger fiercely after truth,

Lest all thy toiling only breeds

New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth

Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then,

No learning from the starry men,

Who follow with the optic glass

The whirling ways of stars that pass —

Seek, then, for this is also sooth,

No word of theirs — the cold star-bane

Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain,

And dead is all their human truth.

Go gather by the humming sea

Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell.

And to its lips thy story tell,

And they thy comforters will be.

Rewording in melodious guile

Thy fretful words a little while,

Till they shall singing fade in ruth

And die a pearly brotherhood;

For words alone are certain good:

Sing, then, for this is also sooth.

I must be gone: there is a grave

Where daffodil and lily wave,

And I would please the hapless faun,

Buried under the sleepy ground,

With mirthful songs before the dawn.

His shouting days with mirth were crowned;

And still I dream he treads the lawn,

Walking ghostly in the dew,

Pierced by my glad singing through,

My songs of old earth’s dreamy youth:

But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou!

For fair are poppies on the brow:

Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.

The Indian Upon God

I PASSED along the water’s edge below the humid trees,

My spirit rocked in evening light, the rushes round my knees,

My spirit rocked in sleep and sighs; and saw the moor-fowl pace

All dripping on a grassy slope, and saw them cease to chase

Each other round in circles, and heard the eldest speak:

Who holds the world between His bill and made us strong or weak

Is an undying moorfowl, and He lives beyond the sky.

The rains are from His dripping wing, the moonbeams from His eye.

I passed a little further on and heard a lotus talk:

Who made the world and ruleth it, He hangeth on a stalk,

For I am in His image made, and all this tinkling tide

Is but a sliding drop of rain between His petals wide.

A little way within the gloom a roebuck raised his eyes

Brimful of starlight, and he said: The Stamper of the Skies,

He is a gentle roebuck; for how else, I pray, could He

Conceive a thing so sad and soft, a gentle thing like me?

I passed a little further on and heard a peacock say:

Who made the grass and made the worms and made my feathers gay,

He is a monstrous peacock, and He waveth all the night

His languid tail above us, lit with myriad spots of light.

The Falling of the Leaves

AUTUMN is over the long leaves that love us,

And over the mice in the barley sheaves;

Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,

And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.

The hour of the waning of love has beset us,

And weary and worn are our sad souls now;

Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,

With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.


“YOUR eyes that once were never weary of mine

Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids,

Because our love is waning.”

And then She:

“Although our love is waning, let us stand

By the lone border of the lake once more,

Together in that hour of gentleness

When the poor tired child, passion, falls asleep.

How far away the stars seem, and how far

Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!”

Pensive they paced along the faded leaves,

While slowly he whose hand held hers replied:

“Passion has often worn our wandering hearts.”

The woods were round them, and the yellow leaves

Fell like faint meteors in the gloom, and once

A rabbit old and lame limped down the path;

Autumn was over him: and now they stood

On the lone border of the lake once more:

Turning, he saw that she had thrust dead leaves

Gathered in silence, dewy as her eyes,

In bosom and hair.

“Ah, do not mourn,” he said,

“That we are tired, for other loves await us;

Hate on and love through unrepining hours.

Before us lies eternity; our souls

Are love, and a continual farewell.”

The Madness of King Goll

I SAT on cushioned otter-skin:

My word was law from Ith to Emain,

And shook at Inver Amergin

The hearts of the world-troubling seamen,

And drove tumult and war away

From girl and boy and man and beast;

The fields grew fatter day by day,

The wild fowl of the air increased;

And every ancient Ollave said,

While he bent down his fading head.

“He drives away the Northern cold.”

They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old.

I sat and mused and drank sweet wine;

A herdsman came from inland valleys,

Crying, the pirates drove his swine

To fill their dark-beaked hollow galleys.

I called my battle-breaking men

And my loud brazen battle-cars

From rolling vale and rivery glen;

And under the blinking of the stars

Fell on the pirates by the deep,

And hurled them in the gulph of sleep:

These hands won many a torque of gold.

They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old.

But slowly, as I shouting slew

And trampled in the bubbling mire,

In my most secret spirit grew

A whirling and a wandering fire:

I stood: keen stars above me shone,

Around me shone keen eyes of men:

I laughed aloud and hurried on

By rocky shore and rushy fen;

I laughed because birds fluttered by,

And starlight gleamed, and clouds flew high,

And rushes waved and waters rolled.

They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old.

And now I wander in the woods

When summer gluts the golden bees,

Or in autumnal solitudes

Arise the leopard-coloured trees;

Or when along the wintry strands

The cormorants shiver on their rocks;

I wander on, and wave my hands,

And sing, and shake my heavy locks.

The grey wolf knows me; by one ear

I lead along the woodland deer;

The hares run by me growing bold.

They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old.

I came upon a little town

That slumbered in the harvest moon,

And passed a-tiptoe up and down,

Murmuring, to a fitful tune,

How I have followed, night and day,

A tramping of tremendous feet,

And saw where this old tympan lay

Deserted on a doorway seat,

And bore it to the woods with me;

Of some inhuman misery

Our married voices wildly trolled.

They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old.

I sang how, when day’s toil is done,

Orchil shakes out her long dark hair

That hides away the dying sun

And sheds faint odours through the air:

When my hand passed from wire to wire

It quenched, with sound like falling dew

The whirling and the wandering fire;

But lift a mournful ulalu,

For the kind wires are torn and still,

And I must wander wood and hill

Through summer’s heat and winter’s cold.

They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old.

Down by the Salley Gardens

DOWN by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;

She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.

She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;

But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

In a field by the river my love and I did stand,

And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.

She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;

But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

The Meditation of the Old Fisherman

YOU waves, though you dance by my feet like children at play,

Though you glow and you glance, though you purr and you dart;

In the Junes that were warmer than these are, the waves were more gay,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.

The herring are not in the tides as they were of old;

My sorrow! for many a creak gave the creel in the-cart

That carried the take to Sligo town to be sold,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.

And ah, you proud maiden, you are not so fair when his oar

Is heard on the water, as they were, the proud and apart,

Who paced in the eve by the nets on the pebbly shore,

When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.

From The Rose (1893)

To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!

Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways:

Cuchulain battling with the bitter tide;

The Druid, grey, wood-nurtured, quiet-eyed,

Who cast round Fergus dreams, and ruin untold;

And thine own sadness, where of stars, grown old

In dancing silver-sandalled on the sea,

Sing in their high and lonely melody.

Come near, that no more blinded by man’s fate,

I find under the boughs of love and hate,

In all poor foolish things that live a day,

Eternal beauty wandering on her way.

Come near, come near, come near — Ah, leave me still

A little space for the rose-breath to fill!

Lest I no more bear common things that crave;

The weak worm hiding down in its small cave,

The field-mouse running by me in the grass,

And heavy mortal hopes that toil and pass;

But seek alone to hear the strange things said

By God to the bright hearts of those long dead,

And learn to chaunt a tongue men do not know.

Come near; I would, before my time to go,

Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.

The Rose of the World

WHO dreamed that beauty passes like a dream?

For these red lips, with all their mournful pride,

Mournful that no new wonder may betide,

Troy passed away in one high funeral gleam,

And Usna’s children died.

We and the labouring world are passing by:

Amid men’s souls, that waver and give place

Like the pale waters in their wintry race,

Under the passing stars, foam of the sky,

Lives on this lonely face.

Bow down, archangels, in your dim abode:

Before you were, or any hearts to beat,

Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;

He made the world to be a grassy road

Before her wandering feet.

The Rose of Battle

ROSE of all Roses, Rose of all the World!

The tall thought-woven sails, that flap unfurled

Above the tide of hours, trouble the air,

And God’s bell buoyed to be the water’s care;

While hushed from fear, or loud with hope, a band

With blown, spray-dabbled hair gather at hand,

Turn if you may from battles never done,

I call, as they go by me one by one,

Danger no refuge holds, and war no peace,

For him who hears love sing and never cease,

Beside her clean-swept hearth, her quiet shade:

But gather all for whom no love hath made

A woven silence, or but came to cast

A song into the air, and singing passed

To smile on the pale dawn; and gather you

Who have sought more than is in rain or dew,

Or in the sun and moon, or on the earth,

Or sighs amid the wandering, starry mirth,

Or comes in laughter from the sea’s sad lips,

And wage God’s battles in the long grey ships.

The sad, the lonely, the insatiable,

To these Old Night shall all her mystery tell;

God’s bell has claimed them by the little cry

Of their sad hearts, that may not live nor die.

Rose of all Roses, Rose of all the World!

You, too, have come where the dim tides are hurled

Upon the wharves of sorrow, and heard ring

The bell that calls us on; the sweet far thing.

Beauty grown sad with its eternity

Made you of us, and of the dim grey sea.

Our long ships loose thought-woven sails and wait,

For God has bid them share an equal fate;

And when at last, defeated in His wars,

They have gone down under the same white stars,

We shall no longer hear the little cry

Of our sad hearts, that may not live nor die.

A Dream of Death

I DREAMED that one had died in a strange place

Near no accustomed hand,

And they had nailed the boards above her face,

The peasants of that land,

Wondering to lay her in that solitude,

And raised above her mound

A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,

And planted cypress round;

And left her to the indifferent stars above

Until I carved these words:

She was more beautiful than thy first love,

But now lies under boards.

The Countess Cathleen in Paradise

ALL the heavy days are over;

Leave the body’s coloured pride

Underneath the grass and clover,

With the feet laid side by side.

Bathed in flaming founts of duty

She’ll not ask a haughty dress;

Carry all that mournful beauty

To the scented oaken press.

Did the kiss of Mother Mary

Put that music in her face?

Yet she goes with footstep wary,

Full of earth’s old timid grace.

’Mong the feet of angels seven

What a dancer glimmering!

All the heavens bow down to Heaven,

Flame to flame and wing to wing.

Who Goes with Fergus?

WHO will go drive with Fergus now,

And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,

And dance upon the level shore?

Young man, lift up your russet brow,

And lift your tender eyelids, maid,

And brood on hopes and fear no more.

And no more turn aside and brood

Upon love’s bitter mystery;

For Fergus rules the brazen cars,

And rules the shadows of the wood,

And the white breast of the dim sea

And all dishevelled wandering stars.

The Man Who Dreamed of Faeryland

HE stood among a crowd at Dromahair;

His heart hung all upon a silken dress,

And he had known at last some tenderness,

Before earth took him to her stony care;

But when a man poured fish into a pile,

It Seemed they raised their little silver heads,

And sang what gold morning or evening sheds

Upon a woven world-forgotten isle

Where people love beside the ravelled seas;

That Time can never mar a lover’s vows

Under that woven changeless roof of boughs:

The singing shook him out of his new ease.

He wandered by the sands of Lissadell;

His mind ran all on money cares and fears,

And he had known at last some prudent years

Before they heaped his grave under the hill;

But while he passed before a plashy place,

A lug-worm with its grey and muddy mouth

Sang that somewhere to north or west or south

There dwelt a gay, exulting, gentle race

Under the golden or the silver skies;

That if a dancer stayed his hungry foot

It seemed the sun and moon were in the fruit:

And at that singing he was no more wise.

He mused beside the well of Scanavin,

He mused upon his mockers: without fail

His sudden vengeance were a country tale,

When earthy night had drunk his body in;

But one small knot-grass growing by the pool

Sang where — unnecessary cruel voice —

Old silence bids its chosen race rejoice,

Whatever ravelled waters rise and fall

Or stormy silver fret the gold of day,

And midnight there enfold them like a fleece

And lover there by lover be at peace.

The tale drove his fine angry mood away.

He slept under the hill of Lugnagall;

And might have known at last unhaunted sleep

Under that cold and vapour-turbaned steep,

Now that the earth had taken man and all:

Did not the worms that spired about his bones

proclaim with that unwearied, reedy cry

That God has laid His fingers on the sky,

That from those fingers glittering summer runs

Upon the dancer by the dreamless wave.

Why should those lovers that no lovers miss

Dream, until God burn Nature with a kiss?

The man has found no comfort in the grave.

The Dedication to a Book of Stories Selected From the Irish Novelists

THERE was a green branch hung with many a bell

When her own people ruled this tragic Eire;

And from its murmuring greenness, calm of Faery,

A Druid kindness, on all hearers fell.

It charmed away the merchant from his guile,

And turned the farmer’s memory from his cattle,

And hushed in sleep the roaring ranks of battle:

And all grew friendly for a little while.

Ah, Exiles wandering over lands and seas,

And planning, plotting always that some morrow

May set a stone upon ancestral Sorrow!

I also bear a bell-branch full of ease.

I tore it from green boughs winds tore and tossed

Until the sap of summer had grown weary!

I tore it from the barren boughs of Eire,

That country where a man can be so crossed;

Can be so battered, badgered and destroyed

That he’s a loveless man: gay bells bring laughter

That shakes a mouldering cobweb from the rafter;

And yet the saddest chimes are best enjoyed.

Gay bells or sad, they bring you memories

Of half-forgotten innocent old places:

We and our bitterness have left no traces

On Munster grass and Connemara skies.

The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner

ALTHOUGH I shelter from the rain

Under a broken tree,

My chair was nearest to the fire

In every company

That talked of love or politics,

Ere Time transfigured me.

Though lads are making pikes again

For some conspiracy,

And crazy rascals rage their fill

At human tyranny,

My contemplations are of Time

That has transfigured me.

There’s not a woman turns her face

Upon a broken tree,

And yet the beauties that I loved

Are in my memory;

I spit into the face of Time

That has transfigured me.

To Some i Have Talked with by the Fire

WHILE I wrought out these fitful Danaan rhymes,

My heart would brim with dreams about the times

When we bent down above the fading coals

And talked of the dark folk who live in souls

Of passionate men, like bats in the dead trees;

And of the wayward twilight companies

Who sigh with mingled sorrow and content,

Because their blossoming dreams have never bent

Under the fruit of evil and of good:

And of the embattled flaming multitude

Who rise, wing above wing, flame above flame,

And, like a storm, cry the Ineffable Name,

And with the clashing of their sword-blades make

A rapturous music, till the morning break

And the white hush end all but the loud beat

Of their long wings, the flash of their white feet.

From The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

The Host of the Air

O’DRISCOLL drove with a song

The wild duck and the drake

From the tall and the tufted reeds

Of the drear Hart Lake.

And he saw how the reeds grew dark

At the coming of night-tide,

And dreamed of the long dim hair

Of Bridget his bride.

He heard while he sang and dreamed

A piper piping away,

And never was piping so sad,

And never was piping so gay.

And he saw young men and young girls

Who danced on a level place,

And Bridget his bride among them,

With a sad and a gay face.

The dancers crowded about him

And many a sweet thing said,

And a young man brought him red wine

And a young girl white bread.

But Bridget drew him by the sleeve

Away from the merry bands,

To old men playing at cards

With a twinkling of ancient hands.

The bread and the wine had a doom,

For these were the host of the air;

He sat and played in a dream

Of her long dim hair.

He played with the merry old men

And thought not of evil chance,

Until one bore Bridget his bride

Away from the merry dance.

He bore her away in his arms,

The handsomest young man there,

And his neck and his breast and his arms

Were drowned in her long dim hair.

O’Driscoll scattered the cards

And out of his dream awoke:

Old men and young men and young girls

Were gone like a drifting smoke;

But he heard high up in the air

A piper piping away,

And never was piping so sad,

And never was piping so gay.

Into the Twilight

OUT-WORN heart, in a time out-worn,

Come clear of the nets of wrong and right;

Laugh, heart, again in the grey twilight,

Sigh, heart, again in the dew of the morn.

Your mother Eire is always young,

Dew ever shining and twilight grey;

Though hope fall from you and love decay,

Burning in fires of a slanderous tongue.

Come, heart, where hill is heaped upon hill:

For there the mystical brotherhood

Of sun and moon and hollow and wood

And river and stream work out their will;

And God stands winding His lonely horn,

And time and the world are ever in flight;

And love is less kind than the grey twilight,

And hope is less dear than the dew of the morn.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I WENT out to the hazel wood,

Because a fire was in my head,

And cut and peeled a hazel wand,

And hooked a berry to a thread;

And when white moths were on the wing,

And moth-like stars were flickering out,

I dropped the berry in a stream

And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor

I went to blow the fire aflame,

But something rustled on the floor,

And some one called me by my name:

It had become a glimmering girl

With apple blossom in her hair

Who called me by my name and ran

And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering

Through hollow lads and hilly lands.

I will find out where she has gone,

And kiss her lips and take her hands;

And walk among long dappled grass,

And pluck till time and times are done

The silver apples of the moon,

The golden apples of the sun.

He Bids His Beloved Be at Peace

I HEAR the Shadowy Horses, their long manes a-shake,

Their hoofs heavy with tumult, their eyes glimmering white;

The North unfolds above them clinging, creeping night,

The East her hidden joy before the morning break,

The West weeps in pale dew and sighs passing away,

The South is pouring down roses of crimson fire:

O vanity of Sleep, Hope, Dream, endless Desire,

The Horses of Disaster plunge in the heavy clay:

Beloved, let your eyes half close, and your heart beat

Over my heart, and your hair fall over my breast,

Drowning love’s lonely hour in deep twilight of rest,

And hiding their tossing manes and their tumultuous feet.

He Remembers Forgotten Beauty

WHEN my arms wrap you round I press

My heart upon the loveliness

That has long faded from the world;

The jewelled crowns that kings have hurled

In shadowy pools, when armies fled;

The love-tales wrought with silken thread

By dreaming ladies upon cloth

That has made fat the murderous moth;

The roses that of old time were

Woven by ladies in their hair,

The dew-cold lilies ladies bore

Through many a sacred corridor

Where such grey clouds of incense rose

That only God’s eyes did not close:

For that pale breast and lingering hand

Come from a more dream-heavy land,

A more dream-heavy hour than this;

And when you sigh from kiss to kiss

I hear white Beauty sighing, too,

For hours when all must fade like dew.

But flame on flame, and deep on deep,

Throne over throne where in half sleep,

Their swords upon their iron knees,

Brood her high lonely mysteries.

A Poet to His Beloved

I BRING you with reverent hands

The books of my numberless dreams,

White woman that passion has worn

As the tide wears the dove-grey sands,

And with heart more old than the horn

That is brimmed from the pale fire of time:

White woman with numberless dreams,

I bring you my passionate rhyme.

The Valley of the Black Pig

THE dews drop slowly and dreams gather: unknown spears

Suddenly hurtle before my dream-awakened eyes,

And then the clash of fallen horsemen and the cries

Of unknown perishing armies beat about my ears.

We who still labour by the cromlech on the shore,

The grey cairn on the hill, when day sinks drowned in dew,

Being weary of the world’s empires, bow down to you.

Master of the still stars and of the flaming door.

The Lover Asks Forgiveness Because of His Many Moods

IF this importunate heart trouble your peace

With words lighter than air,

Or hopes that in mere hoping flicker and cease;

Crumple the rose in your hair;

And cover your lips with odorous twilight and say,

“O Hearts of wind-blown flame!

O Winds, older than changing of night and day,

That murmuring and longing came

From marble cities loud with tabors of old

In dove-grey faery lands;

From battle-banners, fold upon purple fold,

Queens wrought with glimmering hands;

That saw young Niamh hover with love-lorn face

Above the wandering tide;

And lingered in the hidden desolate place

Where the last Phoenix died,

And wrapped the flames above his holy head;

And still murmur and long:

O piteous Hearts, changing till change be dead

In a tumultuous song’:

And cover the pale blossoms of your breast

With your dim heavy hair,

And trouble with a sigh for all things longing for rest

The odorous twilight there.

He Tells of a Valley Full of Lovers

I DREAMED that I stood in a valley, and amid sighs,

For happy lovers passed two by two where I stood;

And I dreamed my lost love came stealthily out of the wood

With her cloud-pale eyelids falling on dream-dimmed eyes:

I cried in my dream, O women, bid the young men lay

Their heads on your knees, and drown their eyes with your fair,

Or remembering hers they will find no other face fair

Till all the valleys of the world have been withered away.

He Hears the Cry of the Sedge

I WANDER by the edge

Of this desolate lake

Where wind cries in the sedge:

Until the axle break

That keeps the stars in their round,

And hands hurl in the deep

The banners of East and West,

And the girdle of light is unbound,

Your breast will not lie by the breast

Of your beloved in sleep.

The Blessed

CUMHAL called out, bending his head,

Till Dathi came and stood,

With a blink in his eyes, at the cave-mouth,

Between the wind and the wood.

And Cumhal said, bending his knees,

“I have come by the windy way

And learn to pray when you pray.

“I can bring you salmon out of the streams

And heron out of the skies.”

But Dathi folded his hands and smiled

With the secrets of God in his eyes.

And Cumhal saw like a drifting smoke

All manner of blessed souls,

Women and children, young men with books,

And old men with croziers and stoles.

“Praise God and God’s Mother,” Dathi said,

“For God and God’s Mother have sent

The blessedest souls that walk in the world

To fill your heart with content.”

“And which is the blessedest,” Cumhal said,

“Where all are comely and good?

Is it these that with golden thuribles

Are singing about the wood?”

“My eyes are blinking,” Dathi said,

“With the secrets of God half blind,

But I can see where the wind goes

And follow the way of the wind;

“And blessedness goes where the wind goes,

And when it is gone we are dead;

I see the blessedest soul in the world

And he nods a drunken head.

“O blessedness comes in the night and the day

And whither the wise heart knows;

And one has seen in the redness of wine

The Incorruptible Rose,

“That drowsily drops faint leaves on him

And the sweetness of desire,

While time and the world are ebbing away

In twilights of dew and of fire.”

The Travail of Passion

WHEN the flaming lute-thronged angelic door is wide;

When an immortal passion breathes in mortal clay;

Our hearts endure the scourge, the plaited thorns, the way

Crowded with bitter faces, the wounds in palm and side,

The vinegar-heavy sponge, the flowers by Kedron stream;

We will bend down and loosen our hair over you,

That it may drop faint perfume, and be heavy with dew,

Lilies of death-pale hope, roses of passionate dream.

The Lover Pleads with His Friend for Old Friends

THOUGH you are in your shining days,

Voices among the crowd

And new friends busy with your praise,

Be not unkind or proud,

But think about old friends the most:

Time’s bitter flood will rise,

Your beauty perish and be lost

For all eyes but these eyes.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

He Thinks of His Past Greatness When a Part of the Constellations of Heaven

I HAVE drunk ale from the Country of the Young

And weep because I know all things now:

I have been a hazel-tree, and they hung

The Pilot Star and the Crooked Plough

Among my leaves in times out of mind:

I became a rush that horses tread:

I became a man, a hater of the wind,

Knowing one, out of all things, alone, that his head

May not lie on the breast nor his lips on the hair

Of the woman that he loves, until he dies.

O beast of the wilderness, bird of the air,

Must I endure your amorous cries?

The Fiddler of Dooney

WHEN I play on my fiddle in Dooney.

Folk dance like a wave of the sea;

My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,

My brother in Mocharabuiee.

I passed my brother and cousin:

They read in their books of prayer;

I read in my book of songs

I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time

To Peter sitting in state,

He will smile on the three old spirits,

But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,

Save by an evil chance,

And the merry love the fiddle,

And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,

They will all come up to me,

With “Here is the fiddler of Dooney!”

And dance like a wave of the sea.

From In the Seven Woods (1904)

In the Seven Woods

I HAVE heard the pigeons of the Seven Woods

Make their faint thunder, and the garden bees

Hum in the lime-tree flowers; and put away

The unavailing outcries and the old bitterness

That empty the heart. I have forgot awhile

Tara uprooted, and new commonness

Upon the throne and crying about the streets

And hanging its paper flowers from post to post,

Because it is alone of all things happy.

I am contented, for I know that Quiet

Wanders laughing and eating her wild heart

Among pigeons and bees, while that Great Archer,

Who but awaits His hour to shoot, still hangs

A cloudy quiver over Pairc-na-lee.

Adam’s Curse

WE sat together at one summer’s end,

That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,

And you and I, and talked of poetry.

I said, “A line will take us hours maybe;

Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,

Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.

Better go down upon your marrow-bones

And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones

Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;

For to articulate sweet sounds together

Is to work harder than all these, and yet

Be thought an idler by the noisy set

Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen

The martyrs call the world.”

And thereupon

That beautiful mild woman for whose sake

There’s many a one shall find out all heartache

On finding that her voice is sweet and low

Replied, “To be born woman is to know —

Although they do not talk of it at school —

That we must labour to be beautiful.”

I said, “It’s certain there is no fine thing

Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.

There have been lovers who thought love should be

So much compounded of high courtesy

That they would sigh and quote with learned looks

precedents out of beautiful old books;

Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.”

We sat grown quiet at the name of love;

We saw the last embers of daylight die,

And in the trembling blue-green of the sky

A moon, worn as if it had been a shell

Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell

About the stars and broke in days and years.

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:

That you were beautiful, and that I strove

To love you in the old high way of love;

That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown

As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water

I HEARD the old, old men say,

“Everything alters,

And one by one we drop away.”

They had hands like claws, and their knees

Were twisted like the old thorn-trees

By the waters.

I heard the old, old men say,

“All that’s beautiful drifts away

Like the waters.”

O Do Not Love Too Long

SWEETHEART, do not love too long:

I loved long and long,

And grew to be out of fashion

Like an old song.

All through the years of our youth

Neither could have known

Their own thought from the other’s,

We were so much at one.

But O, in a minute she changed —

O do not love too long,

Or you will grow out of fashion

Like an old song.

The Players Ask for a Blessing on the Psalteries and on Themselves

Three Voices [together]. Hurry to bless the hands that play,

The mouths that speak, the notes and strings,

O masters of the glittering town!

O! lay the shrilly trumpet down,

Though drunken with the flags that sway

Over the ramparts and the towers,

And with the waving of your wings.

First Voice. Maybe they linger by the way.

One gathers up his purple gown;

One leans and mutters by the wall —

He dreads the weight of mortal hours.

Second Voice. O no, O no! they hurry down

Like plovers that have heard the call.

Third Voice. O kinsmen of the Three in One,

O kinsmen, bless the hands that play.

The notes they waken shall live on

When all this heavy history’s done;

Our hands, our hands must ebb away.

Three Voices [together]. The proud and careless notes live on,

But bless our hands that ebb away.

From The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910)

No Second Troy

WHY should I blame her that she filled my days

With misery, or that she would of late

Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,

Or hurled the little streets upon the great.

Had they but courage equal to desire?

What could have made her peaceful with a mind

That nobleness made simple as a fire,

With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind

That is not natural in an age like this,

Being high and solitary and most stern?

Why, what could she have done, being what she is?

Was there another Troy for her to burn?


SOME may have blamed you that you took away

The verses that could move them on the day

When, the ears being deafened, the sight of the eyes blind

With lightning, you went from me, and I could find

Nothing to make a song about but kings,

Helmets, and swords, and half-forgotten things

That were like memories of you — but now

We’ll out, for the world lives as long ago;

And while we’re in our laughing, weeping fit,

Hurl helmets, crowns, and swords into the pit.

But, dear, cling close to me; since you were gone,

My barren thoughts have chilled me to the bone.


AH, that Time could touch a form

That could show what Homer’s age

Bred to be a hero’s wage.

“Were not all her life but storm

Would not painters paint a form

Of such noble lines,’ I said,

“Such a delicate high head,

All that sternness amid charm,

All that sweetness amid strength?”

Ah, but peace that comes at length,

Came when Time had touched her form.

The Coming of Wisdom with Time

THOUGH leaves are many, the root is one;

Through all the lying days of my youth

I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;

Now I may wither into the truth.

The Mask

“PUT off that mask of burning gold

With emerald eyes.”

“O no, my dear, you make so bold

To find if hearts be wild and wise,

And yet not cold.”

“I would but find what’s there to find,

Love or deceit.”

“It was the mask engaged your mind,

And after set your heart to beat,

Not what’s behind.”

“But lest you are my enemy,

I must enquire.”

“O no, my dear, let all that be;

What matter, so there is but fire

In you, in me?”

At the Abbey Theatre

DEAR Craoibhin Aoibhin, look into our case.

When we are high and airy hundreds say

That if we hold that flight they’ll leave the place,

While those same hundreds mock another day

Because we have made our art of common things,

So bitterly, you’d dream they longed to look

All their lives through into some drift of wings.

You’ve dandled them and fed them from the book

And know them to the bone; impart to us —

We’ll keep the secret — a new trick to please.

Is there a bridle for this Proteus

That turns and changes like his draughty seas?

Or is there none, most popular of men,

But when they mock us, that we mock again?

A Friend’s Illness

SICKNESS brought me this

Thought, in that scale of his:

Why should I be dismayed

Though flame had burned the whole

World, as it were a coal,

Now I have seen it weighed

Against a soul?

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.

From Responsibilities (1914)

The Grey Rock

Poets with whom I learned my trade.

Companions of the Cheshire Cheese,

Here’s an old story I’ve remade,

Imagining ’twould better please

Your cars than stories now in fashion,

Though you may think I waste my breath

Pretending that there can be passion

That has more life in it than death,

And though at bottling of your wine

Old wholesome Goban had no say;

The moral’s yours because it’s mine.

When cups went round at close of day —

Is not that how good stories run? —

The gods were sitting at the board

In their great house at Slievenamon.

They sang a drowsy song, Or snored,

For all were full of wine and meat.

The smoky torches made a glare

On metal Goban’d hammered at,

On old deep silver rolling there

Or on some still unemptied cup

That he, when frenzy stirred his thews,

Had hammered out on mountain top

To hold the sacred stuff he brews

That only gods may buy of him.

Now from that juice that made them wise

All those had lifted up the dim

Imaginations of their eyes,

For one that was like woman made

Before their sleepy eyelids ran

And trembling with her passion said,

“Come out and dig for a dead man,

Who’s burrowing Somewhere in the ground

And mock him to his face and then

Hollo him on with horse and hound,

For he is the worst of all dead men.”

We should be dazed and terror-struck,

If we but saw in dreams that room,

Those wine-drenched eyes, and curse our luck

That emptied all our days to come.

I knew a woman none could please,

Because she dreamed when but a child

Of men and women made like these;

And after, when her blood ran wild,

Had ravelled her own story out,

And said, “In two or in three years

I needs must marry some poor lout,”

And having said it, burst in tears.

Since, tavern comrades, you have died,

Maybe your images have stood,

Mere bone and muscle thrown aside,

Before that roomful or as good.

You had to face your ends when young —

’Twas wine or women, or some curse —

But never made a poorer song

That you might have a heavier purse,

Nor gave loud service to a cause

That you might have a troop of friends,

You kept the Muses’ sterner laws,

And unrepenting faced your ends,

And therefore earned the right — and yet

Dowson and Johnson most I praise —

To troop with those the world’s forgot,

And copy their proud steady gaze.

“The Danish troop was driven out

Between the dawn and dusk,’ she said;

“Although the event was long in doubt.

Although the King of Ireland’s dead

And half the kings, before sundown

All was accomplished.

“When this day

Murrough, the King of Ireland’s son,

Foot after foot was giving way,

He and his best troops back to back

Had perished there, but the Danes ran,

Stricken with panic from the attack,

The shouting of an unseen man;

And being thankful Murrough found,

Led by a footsole dipped in blood

That had made prints upon the ground,

Where by old thorn-trees that man stood;

And though when he gazed here and there,

He had but gazed on thorn-trees, spoke,

‘Who is the friend that seems but air

And yet could give so fine a stroke?’

Thereon a young man met his eye,

Who said, ‘Because she held me in

Her love, and would not have me die,

Rock-nurtured Aoife took a pin,

And pushing it into my shirt,

Promised that for a pin’s sake

No man should see to do me hurt;

But there it’s gone; I will not take

The fortune that had been my shame

Seeing, King’s son, what wounds you have. —

’Twas roundly spoke, but when night came

He had betrayed me to his grave,

For he and the King’s son were dead.

I’d promised him two hundred years,

And when for all I’d done or said —

And these immortal eyes shed tears —

He claimed his country’s need was most,

I’d saved his life, yet for the sake

Of a new friend he has turned a ghost.

What does he care if my heart break?

I call for spade and horse and hound

That we may harry him.’ Thereon

She cast herself upon the ground

And rent her clothes and made her moan:

“Why are they faithless when their might

Is from the holy shades that rove

The grey rock and the windy light?

Why should the faithfullest heart most love

The bitter sweetness of false faces?

Why must the lasting love what passes,

Why are the gods by men betrayed?”

But thereon every god stood up

With a slow smile and without sound,

And stretching forth his arm and cup

To where she moaned upon the ground,

Suddenly drenched her to the skin;

And she with Goban’s wine adrip,

No more remembering what had been,

Stared at the gods with laughing lip.

I have kept my faith, though faith was tried,

To that rock-born, rock-wandering foot,

And the world’s altered since you died,

And I am in no good repute

With the loud host before the sea,

That think sword strokes were better meant

Than lover’s music — let that be,

So that the wandering foot’s content.

On Those That Hated “The Playboy of the Western World”

ONCE, when midnight smote the air,

Eunuchs ran through Hell and met

On every crowded street to stare

Upon great Juan riding by:

Even like these to rail and sweat

Staring upon his sinewy thigh.

A Song From “The Player Queen”

MY mother dandled me and sang,

“How young it is, how young!”

And made a golden cradle

That on a willow swung.

“He went away,” my mother sang,

“When I was brought to bed,”

And all the while her needle pulled

The gold and silver thread.

She pulled the thread and bit the thread

And made a golden gown,

And wept because she had dreamt that I

Was born to wear a crown.

“When she was got,” my mother sang,

I heard a sea-mew cry,

And saw a flake of the yellow foam

That dropped upon my thigh.”

How therefore could she help but braid

The gold into my hair,

And dream that I should carry

The golden top of care?

The Mountain Tomb

POUR wine and dance if manhood still have pride,

Bring roses if the rose be yet in bloom;

The cataract smokes upon the mountain side,

Our Father Rosicross is in his tomb.

Pull down the blinds, bring fiddle and clarionet

That there be no foot silent in the room

Nor mouth from kissing, nor from wine unwet;

Our Father Rosicross is in his tomb.

In vain, in pain; the cataract still cries;

The everlasting taper lights the gloom;

All wisdom shut into his onyx eyes,

Our Father Rosicross sleeps in his tomb.

The Cold Heaven

SUDDENLY I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven

That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,

And thereupon imagination and heart were driven

So wild that every casual thought of that and this

Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season

With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;

And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,

Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,

Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,

Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent

Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken

By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

That the Night Come

SHE lived in storm and strife,

Her soul had such desire

For what proud death may bring

That it could not endure

The common good of life,

But lived as ’twere a king

That packed his marriage day

With banneret and pennon,

Trumpet and kettledrum,

And the outrageous cannon,

To bundle time away

That the night come.

An Appointment

BEING out of heart with government

I took a broken root to fling

Where the proud, wayward squirrel went,

Taking delight that he could spring;

And he, with that low whinnying sound

That is like laughter, sprang again

And so to the other tree at a bound.

Nor the tame will, nor timid brain,

Nor heavy knitting of the brow

Bred that fierce tooth and cleanly limb

And threw him up to laugh on the bough;

No government appointed him.

The Dolls

A DOLL in the doll-maker’s house

Looks at the cradle and bawls:

“That is an insult to us.”

But the oldest of all the dolls,

Who had seen, being kept for show,

Generations of his sort,

Out-screams the whole shelf: “Although

There’s not a man can report

Evil of this place,

The man and the woman bring

Hither, to our disgrace,

A noisy and filthy thing.”

Hearing him groan and stretch

The doll-maker’s wife is aware

Her husband has heard the wretch,

And crouched by the arm of his chair,

She murmurs into his ear,

Head upon shoulder leant:

“My dear, my dear, O dear.

It was an accident.”

From The Wild Swans at Coole (1919)

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I KNOW that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate,

Those that I guard I do not love;

My county is Kiltartan Cross,

My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,

No likely end could bring them loss

Or leave them happier than before.

Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,

Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,

A lonely impulse of delight

Drove to this tumult in the clouds;

I balanced all, brought all to mind

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

Men Improve with the Years

I AM worn out with dreams;

A weather-worn, marble triton

Among the streams;

And all day long I look

Upon this lady’s beauty

As though I had found in a book

A pictured beauty,

pleased to have filled the eyes

Or the discerning ears,

Delighted to be but wise,

For men improve with the years;

And yet, and yet,

Is this my dream, or the truth?

O would that we had met

When I had my burning youth!

But I grow old among dreams,

A weather-worn, marble triton

Among the streams.

A Song

I THOUGHT no more was needed

Youth to prolong

Than dumb-bell and foil

To keep the body young.

O who could have foretold

That the heart grows old?

Though I have many words,

What woman’s satisfied,

I am no longer faint

Because at her side?

O who could have foretold

That the heart grows old?

I have not lost desire

But the heart that I had;

I thought ’twould burn my body

Laid on the death-bed,

For who could have foretold

That the heart grows old?

The Fisherman

ALTHOUGH I can see him still.

The freckled man who goes

To a grey place on a hill

In grey Connemara clothes

At dawn to cast his flies,

It’s long since I began

To call up to the eyes

This wise and simple man.

All day I’d looked in the face

What I had hoped ’twould be

To write for my own race

And the reality;

The living men that I hate,

The dead man that I loved,

The craven man in his seat,

The insolent unreproved,

And no knave brought to book

Who has won a drunken cheer,

The witty man and his joke

Aimed at the commonest ear,

The clever man who cries

The catch-cries of the clown,

The beating down of the wise

And great Art beaten down.

Maybe a twelvemonth since

Suddenly I began,

In scorn of this audience,

Imagining a man,

And his sun-freckled face,

And grey Connemara cloth,

Climbing up to a place

Where stone is dark under froth,

And the down-turn of his wrist

When the flies drop in the stream;

A man who does not exist,

A man who is but a dream;

And cried, “Before I am old

I shall have written him one

poem maybe as cold

And passionate as the dawn.”

The Hawk

“CALL down the hawk from the air;

Let him be hooded or caged

Till the yellow eye has grown mild,

For larder and spit are bare,

The old cook enraged,

The scullion gone wild.”

“I will not be clapped in a hood,

Nor a cage, nor alight upon wrist,

Now I have learnt to be proud

Hovering over the wood

In the broken mist

Or tumbling cloud.”

“What tumbling cloud did you cleave,

Yellow-eyed hawk of the mind,

Last evening? that I, who had sat

Dumbfounded before a knave,

Should give to my friend

A pretence of wit.”

His Phoenix

THERE is a queen in China, or maybe it’s in Spain,

And birthdays and holidays such praises can be heard

Of her unblemished lineaments, a whiteness with no stain,

That she might be that sprightly girl trodden by a bird;

And there’s a score of duchesses, surpassing woman-kind,

Or who have found a painter to make them so for pay

And smooth out stain and blemish with the elegance of his mind:

I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

The young men every night applaud their Gaby’s laughing eye,

And Ruth St. Denis had more charm although she had poor luck;

From nineteen hundred nine or ten, Pavlova’s had the cry

And there’s a player in the States who gathers up her cloak

And flings herself out of the room when Juliet would be bride

With all a woman’s passion, a child’s imperious way,

And there are — but no matter if there are scores beside:

I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

There’s Margaret and Marjorie and Dorothy and Nan,

A Daphne and a Mary who live in privacy;

One’s had her fill of lovers, another’s had but one,

Another boasts, “I pick and choose and have but two or three.”

If head and limb have beauty and the instep’s high and light

They can spread out what sail they please for all I have to say,

Be but the breakers of men’s hearts or engines of delight:

I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

There’ll be that crowd, that barbarous crowd, through all the centuries,

And who can say but some young belle may walk and talk men wild

Who is my beauty’s equal, though that my heart denies,

But not the exact likeness, the simplicity of a child,

And that proud look as though she had gazed into the burning sun,

And all the shapely body no tittle gone astray.

I mourn for that most lonely thing; and yet God’s will be done:

I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.

Broken Dreams

THERE is grey in your hair.

Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath

When you are passing;

But maybe some old gaffer mutters a blessing

Because it was your prayer

Recovered him upon the bed of death.

For your sole sake — that all heart’s ache have known,

And given to others all heart’s ache,

From meagre girlhood’s putting on

Burdensome beauty — for your sole sake

Heaven has put away the stroke of her doom,

So great her portion in that peace you make

By merely walking in a room.

Your beauty can but leave among us

Vague memories, nothing but memories.

A young man when the old men are done talking

Will say to an old man, “Tell me of that lady

The poet stubborn with his passion sang us

When age might well have chilled his blood.”

Vague memories, nothing but memories,

But in the grave all, all, shall be renewed.

The certainty that I shall see that lady

Leaning or standing or walking

In the first loveliness of womanhood,

And with the fervour of my youthful eyes,

Has set me muttering like a fool.

You are more beautiful than any one,

And yet your body had a flaw:

Your small hands were not beautiful,

And I am afraid that you will run

And paddle to the wrist

In that mysterious, always brimming lake

Where those What have obeyed the holy law

paddle and are perfect. Leave unchanged

The hands that I have kissed,

For old sake’s sake.

The last stroke of midnight dies.

All day in the one chair

From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged

In rambling talk with an image of air:

Vague memories, nothing but memories.


THIS night has been so strange that it seemed

As if the hair stood up on my head.

From going-down of the sun I have dreamed

That women laughing, or timid or wild,

In rustle of lace or silken stuff,

Climbed up my creaking stair. They had read

All I had rhymed of that monstrous thing

Returned and yet unrequited love.

They stood in the door and stood between

My great wood lectern and the fire

Till I could hear their hearts beating:

One is a harlot, and one a child

That never looked upon man with desire.

And one, it may be, a queen.

In Memory of Alfred Pollexfen

FIVE-AND-TWENTY years have gone

Since old William Pollexfen

Laid his strong bones down in death

By his wife Elizabeth

In the grey stone tomb he made.

And after twenty years they laid

In that tomb by him and her

His son George, the astrologer;

And Masons drove from miles away

To scatter the Acacia spray

Upon a melancholy man

Who had ended where his breath began.

Many a son and daughter lies

Far from the customary skies,

The Mall and Eades’s grammar school,

In London or in Liverpool;

But where is laid the sailor John

That so many lands had known,

Quiet lands or unquiet seas

Where the Indians trade or Japanese?

He never found his rest ashore,

Moping for one voyage more.

Where have they laid the sailor John?

And yesterday the youngest son,

A humorous, unambitious man,

Was buried near the astrologer,

Yesterday in the tenth year

Since he who had been contented long.

A nobody in a great throng,

Decided he would journey home,

Now that his fiftieth year had come,

And “Mr. Alfred’ be again

Upon the lips of common men

Who carried in their memory

His childhood and his family.

At all these death-beds women heard

A visionary white sea-bird

Lamenting that a man should die;

And with that cry I have raised my cry.

The Phases of the Moon

An old man cocked his ear upon a bridge;

He and his friend, their faces to the South,

Had trod the uneven road. Their boots were soiled,

Their Connemara cloth worn out of shape;

They had kept a steady pace as though their beds,

Despite a dwindling and late-risen moon,

Were distant still. An old man cocked his ear.

Aherne. What made that Sound?

Robartes. A rat or water-hen

Splashed, or an otter slid into the stream.

We are on the bridge; that shadow is the tower,

And the light proves that he is reading still.

He has found, after the manner of his kind,

Mere images; chosen this place to live in

Because, it may be, of the candle-light

From the far tower where Milton’s Platonist

Sat late, or Shelley’s visionary prince:

The lonely light that Samuel Palmer engraved,

An image of mysterious wisdom won by toil;

And now he seeks in book or manuscript

What he shall never find.

Aherne. Why should not you

Who know it all ring at his door, and speak

Just truth enough to show that his whole life

Will scarcely find for him a broken crust

Of all those truths that are your daily bread;

And when you have spoken take the roads again?

Robartes. He wrote of me in that extravagant style

He had learnt from pater, and to round his tale

Said I was dead; and dead I choose to be.

Aherne. Sing me the changes of the moon once more;

True song, though speech: “mine author sung it me.”

Robartes. Twenty-and-eight the phases of the moon,

The full and the moon’s dark and all the crescents,

Twenty-and-eight, and yet but six-and-twenty

The cradles that a man must needs be rocked in:

For there’s no human life at the full or the dark.

From the first crescent to the half, the dream

But summons to adventure and the man

Is always happy like a bird or a beast;

But while the moon is rounding towards the full

He follows whatever whim’s most difficult

Among whims not impossible, and though scarred.

As with the cat-o’-nine-tails of the mind,

His body moulded from within his body

Grows comelier. Eleven pass, and then

Athene takes Achilles by the hair,

Hector is in the dust, Nietzsche is born,

Because the hero’s crescent is the twelfth.

And yet, twice born, twice buried, grow he must,

Before the full moon, helpless as a worm.

The thirteenth moon but sets the soul at war

In its own being, and when that war’s begun

There is no muscle in the arm; and after,

Under the frenzy of the fourteenth moon,

The soul begins to tremble into stillness,

To die into the labyrinth of itself!

Aherne. Sing out the song; sing to the end, and sing

The strange reward of all that discipline.

Robartes. All thought becomes an image and the soul

Becomes a body: that body and that soul

Too perfect at the full to lie in a cradle,

Too lonely for the traffic of the world:

Body and soul cast out and cast away

Beyond the visible world.

Aherne. All dreams of the soul

End in a beautiful man’s or woman’s body.

Robartes. Have you not always known it?

Aherne. The song will have it

That those that we have loved got their long fingers

From death, and wounds, or on Sinai’s top,

Or from some bloody whip in their own hands.

They ran from cradle to cradle till at last

Their beauty dropped out of the loneliness

Of body and soul.

Robartes. The lover’s heart knows that.

Aherne. It must be that the terror in their eyes

Is memory or foreknowledge of the hour

When all is fed with light and heaven is bare.

Robartes. When the moon’s full those creatures of the


Are met on the waste hills by countrymen

Who shudder and hurry by: body and soul

Estranged amid the strangeness of themselves,

Caught up in contemplation, the mind’s eye

Fixed upon images that once were thought;

For separate, perfect, and immovable

Images can break the solitude

Of lovely, satisfied, indifferent eyes.

And thereupon with aged, high-pitched voice

Aherne laughed, thinking of the man within,

His sleepless candle and laborious pen.

Robartes. And after that the crumbling of the moon.

The soul remembering its loneliness

Shudders in many cradles; all is changed,

It would be the world’s servant, and as it serves,

Choosing whatever task’s most difficult

Among tasks not impossible, it takes

Upon the body and upon the soul

The coarseness of the drudge.

Aherne. Before the full

It sought itself and afterwards the world.

Robartes. Because you are forgotten, half out of life,

And never wrote a book, your thought is clear.

Reformer, merchant, statesman, learned man,

Dutiful husband, honest wife by turn,

Cradle upon cradle, and all in flight and all

Deformed because there is no deformity

But saves us from a dream.

Aherne. And what of those

That the last servile crescent has set free?

Robartes. Because all dark, like those that are all light,

They are cast beyond the verge, and in a cloud,

Crying to one another like the bats;

And having no desire they cannot tell

What’s good or bad, or what it is to triumph

At the perfection of one’s own obedience;

And yet they speak what’s blown into the mind;

Deformed beyond deformity, unformed,

Insipid as the dough before it is baked,

They change their bodies at a word.

Aherne. And then?

Robartes. When all the dough has been so kneaded up

That it can take what form cook Nature fancies,

The first thin crescent is wheeled round once more.

Aherne. But the escape; the song’s not finished yet.

Robartes. Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last


The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow

Out of the up and down, the wagon-wheel

Of beauty’s cruelty and wisdom’s chatter —

Out of that raving tide — is drawn betwixt

Deformity of body and of mind.

Aherne. Were not our beds far off I’d ring the bell,

Stand under the rough roof-timbers of the hall

Beside the castle door, where all is stark

Austerity, a place set out for wisdom

That he will never find; I’d play a part;

He would never know me after all these years

But take me for some drunken countryman:

I’d stand and mutter there until he caught

“Hunchback and Saint and Fool,’ and that they came

Under the three last crescents of the moon.

And then I’d stagger out. He’d crack his wits

Day after day, yet never find the meaning.

And then he laughed to think that what seemed hard

Should be so simple — a bat rose from the hazels

And circled round him with its squeaky cry,

The light in the tower window was put out.

The Cat and the Moon

THE cat went here and there

And the moon spun round like a top,

And the nearest kin of the moon,

The creeping cat, looked up.

Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,

For, wander and wail as he would,

The pure cold light in the sky

Troubled his animal blood.

Minnaloushe runs in the grass

Lifting his delicate feet.

Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?

When two close kindred meet.

What better than call a dance?

Maybe the moon may learn,

Tired of that courtly fashion,

A new dance turn.

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass

From moonlit place to place,

The sacred moon overhead

Has taken a new phase.

Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils

Will pass from change to change,

And that from round to crescent,

From crescent to round they range?

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass

Alone, important and wise,

And lifts to the changing moon

His changing eyes.

The Saint and the Hunchback

Hunchback. Stand up and lift your hand and bless

A man that finds great bitterness

In thinking of his lost renown.

A Roman Caesar is held down

Under this hump.

Saint. God tries each man

According to a different plan.

I shall not cease to bless because

I lay about me with the taws

That night and morning I may thrash

Greek Alexander from my flesh,

Augustus Caesar, and after these

That great rogue Alcibiades.

Hunchback. To all that in your flesh have stood

And blessed, I give my gratitude,

Honoured by all in their degrees,

But most to Alcibiades.

The Double Vision of Michael Robartes


ON the grey rock of Cashel the mind’s eye

Has called up the cold spirits that are born

When the old moon is vanished from the sky

And the new still hides her horn.

Under blank eyes and fingers never still

The particular is pounded till it is man.

When had I my own will?

O not since life began.

Constrained, arraigned, baffled, bent and unbent

By these wire-jointed jaws and limbs of wood,

Themselves obedient,

Knowing not evil and good;

Obedient to some hidden magical breath.

They do not even feel, so abstract are they.

So dead beyond our death,

Triumph that we obey.

On the grey rock of Cashel I suddenly saw

A Sphinx with woman breast and lion paw.

A Buddha, hand at rest,

Hand lifted up that blest;

And right between these two a girl at play

That, it may be, had danced her life away,

For now being dead it seemed

That she of dancing dreamed.

Although I saw it all in the mind’s eye

There can be nothing solider till I die;

I saw by the moon’s light

Now at its fifteenth night.

One lashed her tail; her eyes lit by the moon

Gazed upon all things known, all things unknown,

In triumph of intellect

With motionless head erect.

That other’s moonlit eyeballs never moved,

Being fixed on all things loved, all things unloved.

Yet little peace he had,

For those that love are sad.

Little did they care who danced between,

And little she by whom her dance was seen

So she had outdanced thought.

Body perfection brought,

For what but eye and ear silence the mind

With the minute particulars of mankind?

Mind moved yet seemed to stop

As ’twere a spinning-top.

In contemplation had those three so wrought

Upon a moment, and so stretched it out

That they, time overthrown,

Were dead yet flesh and bone.

I knew that I had seen, had seen at last

That girl my unremembering nights hold fast

Or else my dreams that fly

If I should rub an eye,

And yet in flying fling into my meat

A crazy juice that makes the pulses beat

As though I had been undone

By Homer’s Paragon

Who never gave the burning town a thought;

To such a pitch of folly I am brought,

Being caught between the pull

Of the dark moon and the full,

The commonness of thought and images

That have the frenzy of our western seas.

Thereon I made my moan,

And after kissed a stone,

And after that arranged it in a song

Seeing that I, ignorant for So long,

Had been rewarded thus

In Cormac’s ruined house.

From Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921)

Michael Robartes and the Dancer

He. Opinion is not worth a rush;

In this altar-piece the knight,

Who grips his long spear so to push

That dragon through the fading light,

Loved the lady; and it’s plain

The half-dead dragon was her thought,

That every morning rose again

And dug its claws and shrieked and fought.

Could the impossible come to pass

She would have time to turn her eyes,

Her lover thought, upon the glass

And on the instant would grow wise.

She. You mean they argued.

He. Put it so;

But bear in mind your lover’s wage

Is what your looking-glass can show,

And that he will turn green with rage

At all that is not pictured there.

She. May I not put myself to college?

He. Go pluck Athene by the hair;

For what mere book can grant a knowledge

With an impassioned gravity

Appropriate to that beating breast,

That vigorous thigh, that dreaming eye?

And may the Devil take the rest.

She. And must no beautiful woman be

Learned like a man?

He. Paul Veronese

And all his sacred company

Imagined bodies all their days

By the lagoon you love so much,

For proud, soft, ceremonious proof

That all must come to sight and touch;

While Michael Angelo’s Sistine roof,

His “Morning’ and his “Night’ disclose

How sinew that has been pulled tight,

Or it may be loosened in repose,

Can rule by supernatural right

Yet be but sinew.

She. I have heard said

There is great danger in the body.

He. Did God in portioning wine and bread

Give man His thought or His mere body?

She. My wretched dragon is perplexed.

He. I have principles to prove me right.

It follows from this Latin text

That blest souls are not composite,

And that all beautiful women may

Live in uncomposite blessedness,

And lead us to the like — if they

Will banish every thought, unless

The lineaments that please their view

When the long looking-glass is full,

Even from the foot-sole think it too.

She. They say such different things at school.

Solomon and the Witch

AND thus declared that Arab lady:

“Last night, where under the wild moon

On grassy mattress I had laid me,

Within my arms great Solomon,

I suddenly cried out in a strange tongue

Not his, not mine.”

Who understood

Whatever has been said, sighed, sung,

Howled, miau-d, barked, brayed, belled, yelled, cried, crowed,

Thereon replied: “A cockerel

Crew from a blossoming apple bough

Three hundred years before the Fall,

And never crew again till now,

And would not now but that he thought,

Chance being at one with Choice at last,

All that the brigand apple brought

And this foul world were dead at last.

He that crowed out eternity

Thought to have crowed it in again.

For though love has a spider’s eye

To find out some appropriate pain —

Aye, though all passion’s in the glance —

For every nerve, and tests a lover

With cruelties of Choice and Chance;

And when at last that murder’s over

Maybe the bride-bed brings despair,

For each an imagined image brings

And finds a real image there;

Yet the world ends when these two things,

Though several, are a single light,

When oil and wick are burned in one;

Therefore a blessed moon last night

Gave Sheba to her Solomon.”

“Yet the world stays.”

“If that be so,

Your cockerel found us in the wrong

Although he thought it. worth a crow.

Maybe an image is too strong

Or maybe is not strong enough.”

“The night has fallen; not a sound

In the forbidden sacred grove

Unless a petal hit the ground,

Nor any human sight within it

But the crushed grass where we have lain!

And the moon is wilder every minute.

O! Solomon! let us try again.”

Sixteen Dead Men

O BUT we talked at large before

The sixteen men were shot,

But who can talk of give and take,

What should be and what not

While those dead men are loitering there

To stir the boiling pot?

You say that we should still the land

Till Germany’s overcome;

But who is there to argue that

Now Pearse is deaf and dumb?

And is their logic to outweigh

MacDonagh’s bony thumb?

how could you dream they’d listen

That have an ear alone

For those new comrades they have found,

Lord Edward and Wolfe Tone,

Or meddle with our give and take

That converse bone to bone?

The Leaders of the Crowd

THEY must to keep their certainty accuse

All that are different of a base intent;

Pull down established honour; hawk for news

Whatever their loose fantasy invent

And murmur it with bated breath, as though

The abounding gutter had been Helicon

Or calumny a song. How can they know

Truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone,

And there alone, that have no Solitude?

So the crowd come they care not what may come.

They have loud music, hope every day renewed

And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.

Demon and Beast

FOR certain minutes at the least

That crafty demon and that loud beast

That plague me day and night

Ran out of my sight;

Though I had long perned in the gyre,

Between my hatred and desire.

I saw my freedom won

And all laugh in the sun.

The glittering eyes in a death’s head

Of old Luke Wadding’s portrait said

Welcome, and the Ormondes all

Nodded upon the wall,

And even Strafford smiled as though

It made him happier to know

I understood his plan.

Now that the loud beast ran

There was no portrait in the Gallery

But beckoned to sweet company,

For all men’s thoughts grew clear

Being dear as mine are dear.

But soon a tear-drop started up,

For aimless joy had made me stop

Beside the little lake

To watch a white gull take

A bit of bread thrown up into the air;

Now gyring down and perning there

He splashed where an absurd

Portly green-pated bird

Shook off the water from his back;

Being no more demoniac

A stupid happy creature

Could rouse my whole nature.

Yet I am certain as can be

That every natural victory

Belongs to beast or demon,

That never yet had freeman

Right mastery of natural things,

And that mere growing old, that brings

Chilled blood, this sweetness brought;

Yet have no dearer thought

Than that I may find out a way

To make it linger half a day.

O what a sweetness strayed

Through barren Thebaid,

Or by the Mareotic sea

When that exultant Anthony

And twice a thousand more

Starved upon the shore

And withered to a bag of bones!

What had the Caesars but their thrones?

The Second Coming

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

A Prayer for My Daughter

ONCE more the storm is howling, and half hid

Under this cradle-hood and coverlid

My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle

But Gregory’s wood and one bare hill

Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind.

Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;

And for an hour I have walked and prayed

Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour

And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,

And-under the arches of the bridge, and scream

In the elms above the flooded stream;

Imagining in excited reverie

That the future years had come,

Dancing to a frenzied drum,

Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not

Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,

Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,

Being made beautiful overmuch,

Consider beauty a sufficient end,

Lose natural kindness and maybe

The heart-revealing intimacy

That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull

And later had much trouble from a fool,

While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,

Being fatherless could have her way

Yet chose a bandy-legged smith for man.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat

Whereby the Horn of plenty is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;

Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned

By those that are not entirely beautiful;

Yet many, that have played the fool

For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise.

And many a poor man that has roved,

Loved and thought himself beloved,

From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree

That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,

And have no business but dispensing round

Their magnanimities of sound,

Nor but in merriment begin a chase,

Nor but in merriment a quarrel.

O may she live like some green laurel

Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,

The sort of beauty that I have approved,

Prosper but little, has dried up of late,

Yet knows that to be choked with hate

May well be of all evil chances chief.

If there’s no hatred in a mind

Assault and battery of the wind

Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,

So let her think opinions are accursed.

Have I not seen the loveliest woman born

Out of the mouth of plenty’s horn,

Because of her opinionated mind

Barter that horn and every good

By quiet natures understood

For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,

The soul recovers radical innocence

And learns at last that it is self-delighting,

Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,

And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;

She can, though every face should scowl

And every windy quarter howl

Or every bellows burst, be happy Still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house

Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;

For arrogance and hatred are the wares

Peddled in the thoroughfares.

How but in custom and in ceremony

Are innocence and beauty born?

Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,

And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

A Meditation in Time of War

FOR one throb of the artery,

While on that old grey stone I Sat

Under the old wind-broken tree,

I knew that One is animate,

Mankind inanimate fantasy’.

From The Tower (1928)

Meditations in Time of Civil War

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



LOCKE sank into a swoon;

The Garden died;

God took the spinning-jenny

Out of his side.


Where got I that truth?

Out of a medium’s mouth.

Out of nothing it came,

Out of the forest loam,

Out of dark night where lay

The crowns of Nineveh.

On a Picture of a Black Centaur by Edmund Dulac

YOUR hooves have stamped at the black margin of the wood,

Even where horrible green parrots call and swing.

My works are all stamped down into the sultry mud.

I knew that horse-play, knew it for a murderous thing.

What wholesome sun has ripened is wholesome food to eat,

And that alone; yet I, being driven half insane

Because of some green wing, gathered old mummy wheat

In the mad abstract dark and ground it grain by grain

And after baked it slowly in an oven; but now

I bring full-flavoured wine out of a barrel found

Where seven Ephesian topers slept and never knew

When Alexander’s empire passed, they slept so sound.

Stretch out your limbs and sleep a long Saturnian sleep;

I have loved you better than my soul for all my words,

And there is none so fit to keep a watch and keep

Unwearied eyes upon those horrible green birds.

Among School Children

I WALK through the long schoolroom questioning;

A kind old nun in a white hood replies;

The children learn to cipher and to sing,

To study reading-books and histories,

To cut and sew, be neat in everything

In the best modern way — the children’s eyes

In momentary wonder stare upon


A sixty-year-old smiling public man.

I dream of a Ledaean body, bent

Above a sinking fire. a tale that she

Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event

That changed some childish day to tragedy —

Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent

Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,

Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,

Into the yolk and white of the one shell.


And thinking of that fit of grief or rage

I look upon one child or t’other there

And wonder if she stood so at that age —

For even daughters of the swan can share

Something of every paddler’s heritage —

And had that colour upon cheek or hair,

And thereupon my heart is driven wild:

She stands before me as a living child.


Her present image floats into the mind —

Did Quattrocento finger fashion it

Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind

And took a mess of shadows for its meat?

And I though never of Ledaean kind

Had pretty plumage once — enough of that,

Better to smile on all that smile, and show

There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.


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 mother’s 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 man’s enterprise;


Labour is blossoming or dancing where

The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.

Nor beauty born out of its own despair,

Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

The Fool by the Roadside

WHEN all works that have

From cradle run to grave

From grave to cradle run instead;

When thoughts that a fool

Has wound upon a spool

Are but loose thread, are but loose thread;

When cradle and spool are past

And I mere shade at last

Coagulate of stuff

Transparent like the wind,

I think that I may find

A faithful love, a faithful love.

Owen Aherne and His Dancers

A STRANGE thing surely that my Heart, when love had come unsought

Upon the Norman upland or in that poplar shade,

Should find no burden but itself and yet should be worn out.

It could not bear that burden and therefore it went mad.

The south wind brought it longing, and the east wind despair,

The west wind made it pitiful, and the north wind afraid.

It feared to give its love a hurt with all the tempest there;

It feared the hurt that she could give and therefore it went mad.

I can exchange opinion with any neighbouring mind,

I have as healthy flesh and blood as any rhymer’s had,

But O! my Heart could bear no more when the upland caught the wind;

I ran, I ran, from my love’s side because my Heart went mad.


The Heart behind its rib laughed out. “You have called me mad,’ it said,

“Because I made you turn away and run from that young child;

How could she mate with fifty years that was so wildly bred?

Let the cage bird and the cage bird mate and the wild bird mate in the wild.”

“You but imagine lies all day, O murderer,” I replied.

“And all those lies have but one end, poor wretches to betray;

I did not find in any cage the woman at my side.

O but her heart would break to learn my thoughts are far away.”

“Speak all your mind,” my Heart sang out, “speak all your mind; who cares,

Now that your tongue cannot persuade the child till she mistake

Her childish gratitude for love and match your fifty years?

O let her choose a young man now and all for his wild sake.”

The Three Monuments

THEY hold their public meetings where

Our most renowned patriots stand,

One among the birds of the air,

A stumpier on either hand;

And all the popular statesmen say

That purity built up the State

And after kept it from decay;

And let all base ambition be,

For intellect would make us proud

And pride bring in impurity:

The three old rascals laugh aloud.

All Souls’ Night

Epilogue to “A Vision”

MIDNIGHT has come, and the great Christ Church Bell

And may a lesser bell sound through the room;

And it is All Souls’ Night,

And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel

Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;

For it is a ghost’s right,

His element is so fine

Being sharpened by his death,

To drink from the wine-breath

While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound

From every quarter of the world, can stay

Wound in mind’s pondering

As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;

Because I have a marvellous thing to say,

A certain marvellous thing

None but the living mock,

Though not for sober ear;

It may be all that hear

Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought

And knew that sweet extremity of pride

That’s called platonic love,

And that to such a pitch of passion wrought

Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,

Anodyne for his love.

Words were but wasted breath;

One dear hope had he:

The inclemency

Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell

Whether of her or God he thought the most,

But think that his mind’s eye,

When upward turned, on one sole image fell;

And that a slight companionable ghost,

Wild with divinity,

Had so lit up the whole

Immense miraculous house

The Bible promised us,

It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,

Who finding the first wrinkles on a face

Admired and beautiful,

And knowing that the future would be vexed

With ’minished beauty, multiplied commonplace,

preferred to teach a school

Away from neighbour or friend,

Among dark skins, and there

permit foul years to wear

Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out

From a discourse in figurative speech

By some learned Indian

On the soul’s journey. How it is whirled about,

Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,

Until it plunge into the sun;

And there, free and yet fast,

Being both Chance and Choice,

Forget its broken toys

And sink into its own delight at last.

And I call up MacGregor from the grave,

For in my first hard springtime we were friends.

Although of late estranged.

I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,

And told him so, but friendship never ends;

And what if mind seem changed,

And it seem changed with the mind,

When thoughts rise up unbid

On generous things that he did

And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,

Much boisterous courage, before loneliness

Had driven him crazed;

For meditations upon unknown thought

Make human intercourse grow less and less;

They are neither paid nor praised.

but he’d object to the host,

The glass because my glass;

A ghost-lover he was

And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,

So that his elements have grown so fine

The fume of muscatel

Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy

No living man can drink from the whole wine.

I have mummy truths to tell

Whereat the living mock,

Though not for sober ear,

For maybe all that hear

Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought — such thought have I that hold it tight

Till meditation master all its parts,

Nothing can stay my glance

Until that glance run in the world’s despite

To where the damned have howled away their hearts,

And where the blessed dance;

Such thought, that in it bound

I need no other thing,

Wound in mind’s wandering

As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

From The Winding Stair and Other Poems

In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz

THE light of evening, Lissadell,

Great windows open to the south,

Two girls in silk kimonos, both

Beautiful, one a gazelle.

But a raving autumn shears

Blossom from the summer’s wreath;

The older is condemned to death,

Pardoned, drags out lonely years

Conspiring among the ignorant.

I know not what the younger dreams —

Some vague Utopia — and she seems,

When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,

An image of such politics.

Many a time I think to seek

One or the other out and speak

Of that old Georgian mansion, mix

pictures of the mind, recall

That table and the talk of youth,

Two girls in silk kimonos, both

Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Dear shadows, now you know it all,

All the folly of a fight

With a common wrong or right.

The innocent and the beautiful.

Have no enemy but time;

Arise and bid me strike a match

And strike another till time catch;

Should the conflagration climb,

Run till all the sages know.

We the great gazebo built,

They convicted us of guilt;

Bid me strike a match and blow.

A Dialogue of Self and Soul

My Soul I summon to the winding ancient stair;

Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,

Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,

Upon the breathless starlit air,

“Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;

Fix every wandering thought upon

That quarter where all thought is done:

Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

My Self. The consecrated blade upon my knees

Is Sato’s ancient blade, still as it was,

Still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass

Unspotted by the centuries;

That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn

From some court-lady’s dress and round

The wooden scabbard bound and wound

Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

My Soul. Why should the imagination of a man

Long past his prime remember things that are

Emblematical of love and war?

Think of ancestral night that can,

If but imagination scorn the earth

And intellect is wandering

To this and that and t’other thing,

Deliver from the crime of death and birth.

My self. Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it

Five hundred years ago, about it lie

Flowers from I know not what embroidery —

Heart’s purple — and all these I set

For emblems of the day against the tower

Emblematical of the night,

And claim as by a soldier’s right

A charter to commit the crime once more.

My Soul. Such fullness in that quarter overflows

And falls into the basin of the mind

That man is stricken deaf and dumb and blind,

For intellect no longer knows

Is from the Ought, or Knower from the Known —

That is to say, ascends to Heaven;

Only the dead can be forgiven;

But when I think of that my tongue’s a stone.


My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.

What matter if the ditches are impure?

What matter if I live it all once more?

Endure that toil of growing up;

The ignominy of boyhood; the distress

Of boyhood changing into man;

The unfinished man and his pain

Brought face to face with his own clumsiness;

The finished man among his enemies? —

How in the name of Heaven can he escape

That defiling and disfigured shape

The mirror of malicious eyes

Casts upon his eyes until at last

He thinks that shape must be his shape?

And what’s the good of an escape

If honour find him in the wintry blast?

I am content to live it all again

And yet again, if it be life to pitch

Into the frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch,

A blind man battering blind men;

Or into that most fecund ditch of all,

The folly that man does

Or must suffer, if he woos

A proud woman not kindred of his soul.

I am content to follow to its source

Every event in action or in thought;

Measure the lot; forgive myself the lot!

When such as I cast out remorse

So great a sweetness flows into the breast

We must laugh and we must sing,

We are blest by everything,

Everything we look upon is blest.

Spilt Milk

WE that have done and thought,

That have thought and done,

Must ramble, and thin out

Like milk spilt on a stone.

The Nineteenth Century and After

THOUGH the great song return no more

There’s keen delight in what we have:

The rattle of pebbles on the shore

Under the receding wave.

The Seven Sages

The First. My great-grandfather spoke to Edmund Burke

In Grattan’s house.

The Second. My great-grandfather shared

A pot-house bench with Oliver Goldsmith once.

The Third. My great-grandfather’s father talked of music,

Drank tar-water with the Bishop of Cloyne.

The Fourth. But mine saw Stella once.

The Fifth. Whence came our thought?

The Sixth. From four great minds that hated Whiggery.

The Fifth. Burke was a Whig.

The Sixth. Whether they knew or not,

Goldsmith and Burke, Swift and the Bishop of Cloyne

All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?

A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind

That never looked out of the eye of a saint

Or out of drunkard’s eye.

The Seventh. All’s Whiggery now,

But we old men are massed against the world.

The First. American colonies, Ireland, France and India

Harried, and Burke’s great melody against it.

The Second. Oliver Goldsmith sang what he had seen,

Roads full of beggars, cattle in the fields,

But never saw the trefoil stained with blood,

The avenging leaf those fields raised up against it.

The Fourth. The tomb of Swift wears it away.

The Third. A voice

Soft as the rustle of a reed from Cloyne

That gathers volume; now a thunder-clap.

The Sixtb. What schooling had these four?

The Seventh. They walked the roads

Mimicking what they heard, as children mimic;

They understood that wisdom comes of beggary.

The Crazed Moon

CRAZED through much child-bearing

The moon is staggering in the sky;

Moon-struck by the despairing

Glances of her wandering eye

We grope, and grope in vain,

For children born of her pain.

Children dazed or dead!

When she in all her virginal pride

First trod on the mountain’s head

What stir ran through the countryside

Where every foot obeyed her glance!

What manhood led the dance!

Fly-catchers of the moon,

Our hands are blenched, our fingers seem

But slender needles of bone;

Blenched by that malicious dream

They are spread wide that each

May rend what comes in reach.

For Anne Gregory

“NEVER shall a young man,

Thrown into despair

By those great honey-coloured

Ramparts at your ear,

Love you for yourself alone

And not your yellow hair.”

“But I can get a hair-dye

And set such colour there,

Brown, or black, or carrot,

That young men in despair

May love me for myself alone

And not my yellow hair.”

“I heard an old religious man

But yesternight declare

That he had found a text to prove

That only God, my dear,

Could love you for yourself alone

And not your yellow hair.”

Swift’s Epitaph

SWIFT has sailed into his rest;

Savage indignation there

Cannot lacerate his breast.

Imitate him if you dare,

World-besotted traveller; he

Served human liberty.

Mohini Chatterjee

I ASKED if I should pray.

But the Brahmin said,

“pray for nothing, say

Every night in bed,

‘I have been a king,

I have been a slave,

Nor is there anything.

Fool, rascal, knave,

That I have not been,

And yet upon my breast

A myriad heads have lain.’”

That he might Set at rest

A boy’s turbulent days

Mohini Chatterjee

Spoke these, or words like these,

I add in commentary,

“Old lovers yet may have

All that time denied —

Grave is heaped on grave

That they be satisfied —

Over the blackened earth

The old troops parade,

Birth is heaped on Birth

That such cannonade

May thunder time away,

Birth-hour and death-hour meet,

Or, as great sages say,

Men dance on deathless feet.’ 0084

The Mother of God

THE threefold terror of love; a fallen flare

Through the hollow of an ear;

Wings beating about the room;

The terror of all terrors that I bore

The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows

Every common woman knows,

Chimney corner, garden walk,

Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes

And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,

This fallen star my milk sustains,

This love that makes my heart’s blood stop

Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones

And bids my hair stand up?

Quarrel in Old Age

WHERE had her sweetness gone?

What fanatics invent

In this blind bitter town,

Fantasy or incident

Not worth thinking of,

put her in a rage.

I had forgiven enough

That had forgiven old age.

All lives that has lived;

So much is certain;

Old sages were not deceived:

Somewhere beyond the curtain

Of distorting days

Lives that lonely thing

That shone before these eyes

Targeted, trod like Spring.

The Results of Thought

ACQUAINTANCE; companion;

One dear brilliant woman;

The best-endowed, the elect,

All by their youth undone,

All, all, by that inhuman

Bitter glory wrecked.

But I have straightened out

Ruin, wreck and wrack;

I toiled long years and at length

Came to so deep a thought

I can summon back

All their wholesome strength.

What images are these

That turn dull-eyed away,

Or Shift Time’s filthy load,

Straighten aged knees,

Hesitate or stay?

What heads shake or nod?

Remorse for Intemperate Speech

I RANTED to the knave and fool,

But outgrew that school,

Would transform the part,

Fit audience found, but cannot rule

My fanatic heart.

I sought my betters: though in each

Fine manners, liberal speech,

Turn hatred into sport,

Nothing said or done can reach

My fanatic heart,

Out of Ireland have we come.

Great hatred, little room,

Maimed us at the start.

I carry from my mother’s womb

A fanatic heart.

Stream and Sun at Glendalough

THROUGH intricate motions ran

Stream and gliding sun

And all my heart seemed gay:

Some stupid thing that I had done

Made my attention stray.

Repentance keeps my heart impure;

But what am I that dare

Fancy that I can

Better conduct myself or have more

Sense than a common man?

What motion of the sun or stream

Or eyelid shot the gleam

That pierced my body through?

What made me live like these that seem

Self-born, born anew?

From A Full Moon in March (1935)

Parnell’s Funeral

UNDER the Great Comedian’s tomb the crowd.

A bundle of tempestuous cloud is blown

About the sky; where that is clear of cloud

Brightness remains; a brighter star shoots down;

What shudders run through all that animal blood?

What is this sacrifice? Can someone there

Recall the Cretan barb that pierced a star?

Rich foliage that the starlight glittered through,

A frenzied crowd, and where the branches sprang

A beautiful seated boy; a sacred bow;

A woman, and an arrow on a string;

A pierced boy, image of a star laid low.

That woman, the Great Mother imaging,

Cut out his heart. Some master of design

Stamped boy and tree upon Sicilian coin.

An age is the reversal of an age:

When strangers murdered Emmet, Fitzgerald, Tone,

We lived like men that watch a painted stage.

What matter for the scene, the scene once gone:

It had not touched our lives. But popular rage,

Hysterica passion dragged this quarry down.

None shared our guilt; nor did we play a part

Upon a painted stage when we devoured his heart.

Come, fix upon me that accusing eye.

I thirst for accusation. All that was sung.

All that was said in Ireland is a lie

Bred out of the contagion of the throng,

Saving the rhyme rats hear before they die.

Leave nothing but the nothings that belong

To this bare soul, let all men judge that can

Whether it be an animal or a man.

The rest I pass, one sentence I unsay.

Had de Valera eaten parnell’s heart

No loose-lipped demagogue had won the day.

No civil rancour torn the land apart.

Had Cosgrave eaten parnell’s heart, the land’s

Imagination had been satisfied,

Or lacking that, government in such hands.

O’Higgins its sole statesman had not died.

Had even O’Duffy — but I name no more —

Their school a crowd, his master solitude;

Through Jonathan Swift’s Clark grove he passed, and there

plucked bitter wisdom that enriched his blood.

Alternative Song for the Severed Head in “The King of the Great Clock Tower”

SADDLE and ride, I heard a man say,

Out of Ben Bulben and Knocknarea,

What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?

All those tragic characters ride

But turn from Rosses’ crawling tide,

The meet’s upon the mountain-side.

A slow low note and an iron bell.

What brought them there so far from their home.

Cuchulain that fought night long with the foam,

What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?

Niamh that rode on it; lad and lass

That sat so still and played at the chess?

What but heroic wantonness?

A slow low note and an iron bell.

Aleel, his Countess; Hanrahan

That seemed but a wild wenching man;

What says the Clock in the Great Clock Tower?

And all alone comes riding there

The King that could make his people stare,

Because he had feathers instead of hair.

A slow low note and an iron bell.

Church and State

HERE is fresh matter, poet,

Matter for old age meet;

Might of the Church and the State,

Their mobs put under their feet.

O but heart’s wine shall run pure,

Mind’s bread grow sweet.

That were a cowardly song,

Wander in dreams no more;

What if the Church and the State

Are the mob that howls at the door!

Wine shall run thick to the end,

Bread taste sour.

From Last Poems (1936-1939)

Are You Content?

I CALL on those that call me son,

Grandson, or great-grandson,

On uncles, aunts, great-uncles or great-aunts,

To judge what I have done.

Have I, that put it into words,

Spoilt what old loins have sent?

Eyes spiritualised by death can judge,

I cannot, but I am not content.

He that in Sligo at Drumcliff

Set up the old stone Cross,

That red-headed rector in County Down,

A good man on a horse,

Sandymount Corbets, that notable man

Old William Pollexfen,

The smuggler Middleton, Butlers far back,

Half legendary men.

Infirm and aged I might stay

In some good company,

I who have always hated work,

Smiling at the sea,

Or demonstrate in my own life

What Robert Browning meant

By an old hunter talking with Gods;

But I am not content.

Beautiful Lofty Things

BEAUTIFUL lofty things: O’Leary’s noble head;

My father upon the Abbey stage, before him a raging crowd:

“This Land of Saints,” and then as the applause died out,

“Of plaster Saints”; his beautiful mischievous head thrown back.

Standish O’Grady supporting himself between the tables

Speaking to a drunken audience high nonsensical words;

Augusta Gregory seated at her great ormolu table,

Her eightieth winter approaching: “Yesterday he threatened my life.

I told him that nightly from six to seven I sat at this table,

The blinds drawn up”; Maud Gonne at Howth station waiting a train,

Pallas Athene in that straight back and arrogant head:

All the Olympians; a thing never known again.

The Black Tower

SAY that the men of the old black tower,

Though they but feed as the goatherd feeds,

Their money spent, their wine gone sour,

Lack nothing that a soldier needs,

That all are oath-bound men:

Those banners come not in.

There in the tomb stand the dead upright,

But winds come up from the shore:

They shake when the winds roar,

Old bones upon the mountain shake.

Those banners come to bribe or threaten,

Or whisper that a man’s a fool

Who, when his own right king’s forgotten,

Cares what king sets up his rule.

If he died long ago

Why do you dread us so?

There in the tomb drops the faint moonlight,

But wind comes up from the shore:

They shake when the winds roar,

Old bones upon the mountain shake.

The tower’s old cook that must climb and clamber

Catching small birds in the dew of the morn

When we hale men lie stretched in slumber

Swears that he hears the king’s great horn.

But he’s a lying hound:

Stand we on guard oath-bound!

There in the tomb the dark grows blacker,

But wind comes up from the shore:

They shake when the winds roar,

Old bones upon the mountain shake.

Colonel Martin

THE Colonel went out sailing,

He spoke with Turk and Jew,

With Christian and with Infidel,

For all tongues he knew.

“O what’s a wifeless man?” said he,

And he came sailing home.

He rose the latch and went upstairs

And found an empty room.

The Colonel went out sailing.

“I kept her much in the country

And she was much alone,

And though she may be there,” he said,

“She may be in the town.

She may be all alone there,

For who can say?” he said.

“I think that I shall find her

In a young man’s bed.”

The Colonel went out sailing.

The Colonel met a pedlar,

Agreed their clothes to swop,

And bought the grandest jewelry

In a Galway shop,

Instead of thread and needle

put jewelry in the pack,

Bound a thong about his hand,

Hitched it on his back.

The Colonel went out sailing.

The Colonel knocked on the rich man’s door,

“I am sorry,” said the maid,

“My mistress cannot see these things,

But she is still abed,

And never have I looked upon

Jewelry so grand.”

“Take all to your mistress,”

And he laid them on her hand.

The Colonel went out sailing.

And he went in and she went on

And both climbed up the stair,

And O he was a clever man,

For he his slippers wore.

And when they came to the top stair

He ran on ahead,

His wife he found and the rich man

In the comfort of a bed.

The Colonel went out sailing.

The Judge at the Assize Court,

When he heard that story told,

Awarded him for damages

Three kegs of gold.

The Colonel said to Tom his man,

“Harness an ass and cart,

Carry the gold about the town,

Throw it in every part.”

The Colonel went out sailing.

And there at all street-corners

A man with a pistol stood,

And the rich man had paid them well

To shoot the Colonel dead;

But they threw down their pistols

And all men heard them swear

That they could never shoot a man

Did all that for the poor.

The Colonel went out sailing.

“And did you keep no gold, Tom?

You had three kegs,” said he.

“I never thought of that, Sir.”

“Then want before you die.”

And want he did; for my own grand-dad

Saw the story’s end,

And Tom make out a living

From the seaweed on the strand.

The Colonel went out sailing.

A Crazed Girl

THAT crazed girl improvising her music.

Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself

Climbing, falling She knew not where,

Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,

Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare

A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing

Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred

She stood in desperate music wound,

Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph

Where the bales and the baskets lay

No common intelligible sound

But sang, “O sea-starved, hungry sea.”

Crazy Jane on the Mountain

I AM tired of cursing the Bishop,

(Said Crazy Jane)

Nine books or nine hats

Would not make him a man.

I have found something worse

To meditate on.

A King had some beautiful cousins.

But where are they gone?

Battered to death in a cellar,

And he stuck to his throne.

Last night I lay on the mountain.

(Said Crazy Jane)

There in a two-horsed carriage

That on two wheels ran

Great-bladdered Emer sat.

Her violent man

Cuchulain sat at her side;


Propped upon my two knees,

I kissed a stone

I lay stretched out in the dirt

And I cried tears down.

Cuchulain Comforted

A MAN that had six mortal wounds, a man

Violent and famous, strode among the dead;

Eyes stared out of the branches and were gone.

Then certain Shrouds that muttered head to head

Came and were gone. He leant upon a tree

As though to meditate on wounds and blood.

A Shroud that seemed to have authority

Among those bird-like things came, and let fall

A bundle of linen. Shrouds by two and three

Came creeping up because the man was still.

And thereupon that linen-carrier said:

“Your life can grow much sweeter if you will

“Obey our ancient rule and make a shroud;

Mainly because of what we only know

The rattle of those arms makes us afraid.

“We thread the needles’ eyes, and all we do

All must together do.’ That done, the man

Took up the nearest and began to sew.

“Now must we sing and sing the best we can,

But first you must be told our character:

Convicted cowards all, by kindred slain

“Or driven from home and left to die in fear.”

They sang, but had nor human tunes nor words,

Though all was done in common as before;

They had changed their throats and had the throats of


The Curse of Cromwell

YOU ask what — I have found, and far and wide I go:

Nothing but Cromwell’s house and Cromwell’s murderous crew,

The lovers and the dancers are beaten into the clay,

And the tall men and the swordsmen and the horsemen, where are they?

And there is an old beggar wandering in his pride —

His fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified.

O what of that, O what of that,

What is there left to say?

All neighbourly content and easy talk are gone,

But there’s no good complaining, for money’s rant is on.

He that’s mounting up must on his neighbour mount,

And we and all the Muses are things of no account.

They have schooling of their own, but I pass their schooling by,

What can they know that we know that know the

time to die?

O what of that, O what of that,

What is there left to say?

But there’s another knowledge that my heart destroys,

As the fox in the old fable destroyed the Spartan boy’s

Because it proves that things both can and cannot be;

That the swordsmen and the ladies can still keep company,

Can pay the poet for a verse and hear the fiddle sound,

That I am still their servant though all are underground.

O what of that, O what of that,

What is there left to say?

I came on a great house in the middle of the night,

Its open lighted doorway and its windows all alight,

And all my friends were there and made me welcome too;

But I woke in an old ruin that the winds. howled through;

And when I pay attention I must out and walk

Among the dogs and horses that understand my talk.

O what of that, O what of that,

What is there left to say?

High Talk

PROCESSIONS that lack high stilts have nothing that catches the eye.

What if my great-granddad had a pair that were twenty foot high,

And mine were but fifteen foot, no modern Stalks upon higher,

Some rogue of the world stole them to patch up a fence or a fire.

Because piebald ponies, led bears, caged lions, are but poor shows,

Because children demand Daddy-long-legs upon this timber toes,

Because women in the upper storeys demand a face at the pane,

That patching old heels they may shriek, I take to chisel and plane.

Malachi Stilt-Jack am I, whatever I learned has run wild,

From collar to collar, from stilt to stilt, from father to child.

All metaphor, Malachi, stilts and all. A barnacle goose

Far up in the stretches of night; night splits and the dawn breaks loose;

I, through the terrible novelty of light, stalk on, stalk on;

Those great sea-horses bare their teeth and laugh at the dawn.

Easter 1916

I HAVE met them at close of day

Coming with vivid faces

From counter or desk among grey

Eighteenth-century houses.

I have passed with a nod of the head

Or polite meaningless words,

Or have lingered awhile and said

Polite meaningless words,

And thought before I had done

Of a mocking tale or a gibe

To please a companion

Around the fire at the club,

Being certain that they and I

But lived where motley is worn:

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent

In ignorant good-will,

Her nights in argument

Until her voice grew shrill.

What voice more sweet than hers

When, young and beautiful,

She rode to harriers?

This man had kept a school

And rode our winged horse;

This other his helper and friend

Was coming into his force;

He might have won fame in the end,

So sensitive his nature seemed,

So daring and sweet his thought.

This other man I had dreamed

A drunken, vainglorious lout.

He had done most bitter wrong

To some who are near my heart,

Yet I number him in the song;

He, too, has resigned his part

In the casual comedy;

He, too, has been changed in his turn,

Transformed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone

Through summer and winter seem

Enchanted to a stone

To trouble the living stream.

The horse that comes from the road.

The rider, the birds that range

From cloud to tumbling cloud,

Minute by minute they change;

A shadow of cloud on the stream

Changes minute by minute;

A horse-hoof slides on the brim,

And a horse plashes within it;

The long-legged moor-hens dive,

And hens to moor-cocks call;

Minute by minute they live:

The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven’s part, our part

To murmur name upon name,

As a mother names her child

When sleep at last has come

On limbs that had run wild.

What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death;

Was it needless death after all?

For England may keep faith

For all that is done and said.

We know their dream; enough

To know they dreamed and are dead;

And what if excess of love

Bewildered them till they died?

I write it out in a verse —

MacDonagh and MacBride

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Imitated From the Japanese

A MOST astonishing thing —

Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring,

For Spring is here again.)

Seventy years have I lived

No ragged beggar-man,

Seventy years have I lived,

Seventy years man and boy,

And never have I danced for joy.

The Lady’s Second Song

WHAT sort of man is coming

To lie between your feet?

What matter, we are but women.

Wash; make your body sweet;

I have cupboards of dried fragrance.

I can strew the sheet.

The Lord have mercy upon us.

He shall love my soul as though

Body were not at all,

He shall love your body

Untroubled by the soul,

Love cram love’s two divisions

Yet keep his substance whole.

The Lord have mercy upon us.

Soul must learn a love that is

proper to my breast,

Limbs a Love in common

With every noble beast.

If soul may look and body touch,

Which is the more blest?

The Lord have mercy upon us.

Long-Legged Fly

THAT civilisation may not sink,

Its great battle lost,

Quiet the dog, tether the pony

To a distant post;

Our master Caesar is in the tent

Where the maps ate spread,

His eyes fixed upon nothing,

A hand under his head.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream

His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt

And men recall that face,

Move most gently if move you must

In this lonely place.

She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,

That nobody looks; her feet

Practise a tinker shuffle

Picked up on a street.

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream

Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find

The first Adam in their thought,

Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,

Keep those children out.

There on that scaffolding reclines

Michael Angelo.

With no more sound than the mice make

His hand moves to and fro.

Like a long-leggedfly upon the stream

His mind moves upon silence.

The Lover’s Song

BIRD sighs for the air,

Thought for I know not where,

For the womb the seed sighs.

Now sinks the same rest

On mind, on nest,

On straining thighs.

The Man and the Echo


IN a cleft that’s christened Alt

Under broken stone I halt

At the bottom of a pit

That broad noon has never lit,

And shout a secret to the stone.

All that I have said and done,

Now that I am old and ill,

Turns into a question till

I lie awake night after night

And never get the answers right.

Did that play of mine send out

Certain men the English shot?

Did words of mine put too great strain

On that woman’s reeling brain?

Could my spoken words have checked

That whereby a house lay wrecked?

And all seems evil until I

Sleepless would lie down and die.


Lie down and die.


That were to shirk

The spiritual intellect’s great work,

And shirk it in vain. There is no release

In a bodkin or disease,

Nor can there be work so great

As that which cleans man’s dirty slate.

While man can still his body keep

Wine or love drug him to sleep,

Waking he thanks the Lord that he

Has body and its stupidity,

But body gone he sleeps no more,

And till his intellect grows sure

That all’s arranged in one clear view,

pursues the thoughts that I pursue,

Then stands in judgment on his soul,

And, all work done, dismisses all

Out of intellect and sight

And sinks at last into the night.


Into the night.


O Rocky Voice,

Shall we in that great night rejoice?

What do we know but that we face

One another in this place?

But hush, for I have lost the theme,

Its joy or night-seem but a dream;

Up there some hawk or owl has struck,

Dropping out of sky or rock,

A stricken rabbit is crying out,

And its cry distracts my thought.

A Nativity

WHAT woman hugs her infant there?

Another star has shot an ear.

What made the drapery glisten so?

Not a man but Delacroix.

What made the ceiling waterproof?

Landor’s tarpaulin on the roof

What brushes fly and moth aside?

Irving and his plume of pride.

What hurries out the knave and dolt?

Talma and his thunderbolt.

Why is the woman terror-struck?

Can there be mercy in that look?

News for the Delphic Oracle

THERE all the golden codgers lay,

There the silver dew,

And the great water sighed for love,

And the wind sighed too.

Man-picker Niamh leant and sighed

By Oisin on the grass;

There sighed amid his choir of love

Tall Pythagoras.

Plotinus came and looked about,

The salt-flakes on his breast,

And having stretched and yawned awhile

Lay sighing like the rest.

Straddling each a dolphin’s back

And steadied by a fin,

Those Innocents re-live their death,

Their wounds open again.

The ecstatic waters laugh because

Their cries are sweet and strange,

Through their ancestral patterns dance,

And the brute dolphins plunge

Until, in some cliff-sheltered bay

Where wades the choir of love

Proffering its sacred laurel crowns,

They pitch their burdens off.

The Old Stone Cross

A STATESMAN is an easy man,

He tells his lies by rote;

A journalist makes up his lies

And takes you by the throat;

So stay at home and drink your beer

And let the neighbours vote,

Said the man in the golden breastplate

Under the old stone Cross.

Because this age and the next age

Engender in the ditch,

No man can know a happy man

From any passing wretch;

If Folly link with Elegance

No man knows which is which,

Said the man in the golden breastplate

Under the old stone Cross.

But actors lacking music

Do most excite my spleen,

They say it is more human

To shuffle, grunt and groan,

Not knowing what unearthly stuff

Rounds a mighty scene,

Said the man in the golden breastplate

Under the old stone Cross.


Parnell came down the road, he said to a cheering man:

“Ireland shall get her freedom and you still break stone.”

Lapis Lazuli

(For Harry Clifton)

I HAVE heard that hysterical women say

They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.

Of poets that are always gay,

For everybody knows or else should know

That if nothing drastic is done

Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out.

Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in

Until the town lie bearen flat.

All perform their tragic play,

There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,

That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia;

Yet they, should the last scene be there,

The great stage curtain about to drop,

If worthy their prominent part in the play,

Do not break up their lines to weep.

They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;

Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.

All men have aimed at, found and lost;

Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:

Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.

Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,

And all the drop-scenes drop at once

Upon a hundred thousand stages,

It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.

On their own feet they came, or On shipboard,

Camel-back; horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,

Old civilisations put to the sword.

Then they and their wisdom went to rack:

No handiwork of Callimachus,

Who handled marble as if it were bronze,

Made draperies that seemed to rise

When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;

His long lamp-chimney shaped like the stem

Of a slender palm, stood but a day;

All things fall and are built again,

And those that build them again are gay.

Two Chinamen, behind them a third,

Are carved in lapis lazuli,

Over them flies a long-legged bird,

A symbol of longevity;

The third, doubtless a serving-man,

Carries a musical instrument.

Every discoloration of the stone,

Every accidental crack or dent,

Seems a water-course or an avalanche,

Or lofty slope where it still snows

Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch

Sweetens the little half-way house

Those Chinamen climb towards, and I

Delight to imagine them seated there;

There, on the mountain and the sky,

On all the tragic scene they stare.

One asks for mournful melodies;

Accomplished fingers begin to play.

Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,

Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.


HOW can I, that girl standing there,

My attention fix

On Roman or on Russian

Or on Spanish politics?

Yet here’s a travelled man that knows

What he talks about,

And there’s a politician

That has read and thought,

And maybe what they say is true

Of war and war’s alarms,

But O that I were young again

And held her in my arms!

Roger Casement

I SAY that Roger Casement

Did what he had to do.

He died upon the gallows,

But that is nothing new.

Afraid they might be beaten

Before the bench of Time,

They turned a trick by forgery

And blackened his good name.

A perjurer stood ready

To prove their forgery true;

They gave it out to all the world,

And that is something new;

For Spring Rice had to whisper it,

Being their Ambassador,

And then the speakers got it

And writers by the score.

Come Tom and Dick, come all the troop

That cried it far and wide,

Come from the forger and his desk,

Desert the perjurer’s side;

Come speak your bit in public

That some amends be made

To this most gallant gentleman

That is in quicklime laid.

The Statues

PYTHAGORAS planned it. Why did the people stare?

His numbers, though they moved or seemed to move

In marble or in bronze, lacked character.

But boys and girls, pale from the imagined love

Of solitary beds, knew what they were,

That passion could bring character enough,

And pressed at midnight in some public place

Live lips upon a plummet-measured face.

No! Greater than Pythagoras, for the men

That with a mallet or a chisel” modelled these

Calculations that look but casual flesh, put down

All Asiatic vague immensities,

And not the banks of oars that swam upon

The many-headed foam at Salamis.

Europe put off that foam when Phidias

Gave women dreams and dreams their looking-glass.

One image crossed the many-headed, sat

Under the tropic shade, grew round and slow,

No Hamlet thin from eating flies, a fat

Dreamer of the Middle Ages. Empty eyeballs knew

That knowledge increases unreality, that

Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show.

When gong and conch declare the hour to bless

Grimalkin crawls to Buddha’s emptiness.

When Pearse summoned Cuchulain to his side.

What stalked through the post Office? What intellect,

What calculation, number, measurement, replied?

We Irish, born into that ancient sect

But thrown upon this filthy modern tide

And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,

Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace

The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.

April 9,

The Statesman’s Holiday

I LIVED among great houses,

Riches drove out rank,

Base drove out the better blood,

And mind and body shrank.

No Oscar ruled the table,

But I’d a troop of friends

That knowing better talk had gone

Talked of odds and ends.

Some knew what ailed the world

But never said a thing,

So I have picked a better trade

And night and morning sing:

Tall dames go walking in grass-green Avalon.

Am I a great Lord Chancellor

That slept upon the Sack?

Commanding officer that tore

The khaki from his back?

Or am I de Valera,

Or the King of Greece,

Or the man that made the motors?

Ach, call me what you please!

Here’s a Montenegrin lute,

And its old sole string

Makes me sweet music

And I delight to sing:

Tall dames go walking in grass-green Avalon.

With boys and girls about him.

With any sort of clothes,

With a hat out of fashion,

With Old patched shoes,

With a ragged bandit cloak,

With an eye like a hawk,

With a stiff straight back,

With a strutting turkey walk.

With a bag full of pennies,

With a monkey on a chain,

With a great cock’s feather,

With an old foul tune.

Tall dames go walking in grass-green Avalon.

A Stick of Incense

Whence did all that fury come?
From empty tomb or Virgin womb?
Saint Joseph thought the world would melt
But liked the way his finger smelt.

Baile and Aillinn (1903)

ARGUMENT. Baile and Aillinn were lovers, but Aengus, the Master of Love, wishing them to he happy in his own land among the dead, told to each a story of the other’s death, so that their hearts were broken and they died.

I HARDLY hear the curlew cry,

Nor the grey rush when the wind is high,

Before my thoughts begin to run

On the heir of Uladh, Buan’s son,

Baile, who had the honey mouth;

And that mild woman of the south,

Aillinn, who was King Lugaidh’s heir.

Their love was never drowned in care

Of this or that thing, nor grew cold

Because their bodies had grown old.

Being forbid to marry on earth,

They blossomed to immortal mirth.

About the time when Christ was born,

When the long wars for the White Horn

And the Brown Bull had not yet come,

Young Baile Honey Mouth, whom some

Called rather Baile Little-Land,

Rode out of Emain with a band

Of harpers and young men; and they

Imagined, as they struck the way

To many-pastured Muirthemne,

That all things fell out happily,

And there, for all that fools had said,

Baile and Aillinn would be wed.

They found an old man running there:

He had ragged long grass-coloured hair;

He had knees that stuck out of his hose;

He had puddle-water in his shoes;

He had half a cloak to keep him dry,

Although he had a squirrel’s eye.

O wandering birds and rushy beds,

You put such folly in our heads

With all this crying in the wind,

No common love is to our mind,

And our poor Kate or Nan is less

Than any whose unhappiness

Awoke the harp-strings long ago.

Yet they that know all things hut know

That all this life can give us is

A child’s laughter, a woman’s kiss.

Who was it put so great a scorn

In the grey reeds that night and morn

Are trodden and broken by the herds,

And in the light bodies of birds

The north wind tumbles to and fro

And pinches among hail and snow?

That runner said: “I am from the south;

I run to Baile Honey-Mouth,

To tell him how the girl Aillinn

Rode from the country of her kin,

And old and young men rode with her:

For all that country had been astir

If anybody half as fair

Had chosen a husband anywhere

But where it could see her every day.

When they had ridden a little way

An old man caught the horse’s head

With: ‘You must home again, and wed

With somebody in your own land.’

A young man cried and kissed her hand,

‘O lady, wed with one of us’;

And when no face grew piteous

For any gentle thing she spake,

She fell and died of the heart-break.”

Because a lover’s heart s worn out,

Being tumbled and blown about

By its own blind imagining,

And will believe that anything

That is bad enough to be true, is true,

Baile’s heart was broken in two;

And he, being laid upon green boughs,

Was carried to the goodly house

Where the Hound of Uladh sat before

The brazen pillars of his door,

His face bowed low to weep the end

Of the harper’s daughter and her friend

For although years had passed away

He always wept them on that day,

For on that day they had been betrayed;

And now that Honey-Mouth is laid

Under a cairn of sleepy stone

Before his eyes, he has tears for none,

Although he is carrying stone, but two

For whom the cairn’s but heaped anew.

We hold, because our memory is

So full of that thing and of this,

That out of sight is out of mind.

But the grey rush under the wind

And the grey bird with crooked bill

rave such long memories that they still

Remember Deirdre and her man;

And when we walk with Kate or Nan

About the windy water-side,

Our hearts can Fear the voices chide.

How could we be so soon content,

Who know the way that Naoise went?

And they have news of Deirdre’s eyes,

Who being lovely was so wise —

Ah! wise, my heart knows well how wise.

Now had that old gaunt crafty one,

Gathering his cloak about him, run

Where Aillinn rode with waiting-maids,

Who amid leafy lights and shades

Dreamed of the hands that would unlace

Their bodices in some dim place

When they had come to the marriage-bed,

And harpers, pacing with high head

As though their music were enough

To make the savage heart of love

Grow gentle without sorrowing,

Imagining and pondering

Heaven knows what calamity;

“Another’s hurried off,” cried he,

“From heat and cold and wind and wave;

They have heaped the stones above his grave

In Muirthemne, and over it

In changeless Ogham letters writ —

Baile, that was of Rury’s seed.

But the gods long ago decreed

No waiting-maid should ever spread

Baile and Aillinn’s marriage-bed,

For they should clip and clip again

Where wild bees hive on the Great Plain.

Therefore it is but little news

That put this hurry in my shoes.”

Then seeing that he scarce had spoke

Before her love-worn heart had broke.

He ran and laughed until he came

To that high hill the herdsmen name

The Hill Seat of Laighen, because

Some god or king had made the laws

That held the land together there,

In old times among the clouds of the air.

That old man climbed; the day grew dim;

Two swans came flying up to him,

Linked by a gold chain each to each,

And with low murmuring laughing speech

Alighted on the windy grass.

They knew him: his changed body was

Tall, proud and ruddy, and light wings

Were hovering over the harp-strings

That Edain, Midhir’s wife, had wove

In the hid place, being crazed by love.

What shall I call them? fish that swim,

Scale rubbing scale where light is dim

By a broad water-lily leaf;

Or mice in the one wheaten sheaf

Forgotten at the threshing-place;

Or birds lost in the one clear space

Of morning light in a dim sky;

Or, it may be, the eyelids of one eye,

Or the door-pillars of one house,

Or two sweet blossoming apple-boughs

That have one shadow on the ground;

Or the two strings that made one sound

Where that wise harper’s finger ran.

For this young girl and this young man

Have happiness without an end,

Because they have made so good a friend.

They know all wonders, for they pass

The towery gates of Gorias,

And Findrias and Falias,

And long-forgotten Murias,

Among the giant kings whose hoard,

Cauldron and spear and stone and sword,

Was robbed before earth gave the wheat;

Wandering from broken street to street

They come where some huge watcher is,

And tremble with their love and kiss.

They know undying things, for they

Wander where earth withers away,

Though nothing troubles the great streams

But light from the pale stars, and gleams

From the holy orchards, where there is none

But fruit that is of precious stone,

Or apples of the sun and moon.

What were our praise to them? They eat

Quiet’s wild heart, like daily meat;

Who when night thickens are afloat

On dappled skins in a glass boat,

Far out under a windless sky;

While over them birds of Aengus fly,

And over the tiller and the prow,

And waving white wings to and fro

Awaken wanderings of light air

To stir their coverlet and their hair.

And poets found, old writers say,

A yew tree where his body lay;

But a wild apple hid the grass

With its sweet blossom where hers was,

And being in good heart, because

A better time had come again

After the deaths of many men,

And that long fighting at the ford,

They wrote on tablets of thin board,

Made of the apple and the yew,

All the love stories that they knew.

Let rush and bird cry out their fill

Of the harper’s daughter if they will,

Beloved, I am not afraid of her.

She is not wiser nor lovelier,

And you are more high of heart than she,

For all her wanderings over-sea;

But I’d have bird and rush forget

Those other two; for never yet

Has lover lived, but longed to wive

Like them that are no more alive.

From The Shadowy Waters (1906)

To Lady Gregory

I walked among the seven woods of Coole:

Shan-walla, where a willow-bordered pond

Gathers the wild duck from the winter dawn;

Shady Kyle-dortha; sunnier Kyle-na-no,

Where many hundred squirrels are as happy

As though they had been hidden by green boughs

Where old age cannot find them; Paire-na-lee,

Where hazel and ash and privet blind the paths:

Dim Pairc-na-carraig, where the wild bees fling

Their sudden fragrances on the green air;

Dim Pairc-na-tarav, where enchanted eyes

Have seen immortal, mild, proud shadows walk;

Dim Inchy wood, that hides badger and fox

And marten-cat, and borders that old wood

Wise Buddy Early called the wicked wood:

Seven odours, seven murmurs, seven woods.

I had not eyes like those enchanted eyes,

Yet dreamed that beings happier than men

Moved round me in the shadows, and at night

My dreams were clown by voices and by fires;

And the images I have woven in this story

Of Forgael and Dectora and the empty waters

Moved round me in the voices and the fires,

And more I may not write of, for they that cleave

The waters of sleep can make a chattering tongue

Heavy like stone, their wisdom being half silence.

How shall I name you, immortal, mild, proud shadows?

I only know that all we know comes from you,

And that you come from Eden on flying feet.

Is Eden far away, or do you hide

From human thought, as hares and mice and coneys

That run before the reaping-hook and lie

In the last ridge of the barley? Do our woods

And winds and ponds cover more quiet woods,

More shining winds, more star-glimmering ponds?

Is Eden out of time and out of space?

And do you gather about us when pale light

Shining on water and fallen among leaves,

And winds blowing from flowers, and whirr of feathers

And the green quiet, have uplifted the heart?

I have made this poem for you, that men may read it

Before they read of Forgael and Dectora,

As men in the old times, before the harps began,

Poured out wine for the high invisible ones.

The Harp of Aengus

Edain came out of Midhir’s hill, and lay

Beside young Aengus in his tower of glass,

Where time is drowned in odour-laden winds

And Druid moons, and murmuring of boughs,

And sleepy boughs, and boughs where apples made

Of opal and ruby and pale chrysolite

Awake unsleeping fires; and wove seven strings,

Sweet with all music, out of his long hair,

Because her hands had been made wild by love.

When Midhir’s wife had changed her to a fly,

He made a harp with Druid apple-wood

That she among her winds might know he wept;

And from that hour he has watched over none

But faithful lovers.

The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid (1923)

KUSTA BEN LUKA is my name, I write

To Abd Al-Rabban; fellow-roysterer once,

Now the good Caliph’s learned Treasurer,

And for no ear but his.

Carry this letter

Through the great gallery of the Treasure House

Where banners of the Caliphs hang, night-coloured

But brilliant as the night’s embroidery,

And wait war’s music; pass the little gallery;

Pass books of learning from Byzantium

Written in gold upon a purple stain,

And pause at last, I was about to say,

At the great book of Sappho’s song; but no,

For should you leave my letter there, a boy’s

Love-lorn, indifferent hands might come upon it

And let it fall unnoticed to the floor.

Pause at the Treatise of Parmenides

And hide it there, for Caiphs to world’s end

Must keep that perfect, as they keep her song,

So great its fame.

When fitting time has passed

The parchment will disclose to some learned man

A mystery that else had found no chronicler

But the wild Bedouin. Though I approve

Those wanderers that welcomed in their tents

What great Harun Al-Rashid, occupied

With Persian embassy or Grecian war,

Must needs neglect, I cannot hide the truth

That wandering in a desert, featureless

As air under a wing, can give birds’ wit.

In after time they will speak much of me

And speak but fantasy. Recall the year

When our beloved Caliph put to death

His Vizir Jaffer for an unknown reason:

“If but the shirt upon my body knew it

I’d tear it off and throw it in the fire.”

That speech was all that the town knew, but he

Seemed for a while to have grown young again;

Seemed so on purpose, muttered Jaffer’s friends,

That none might know that he was conscience-struck —

But that’s a traitor’s thought. Enough for me

That in the early summer of the year

The mightiest of the princes of the world

Came to the least considered of his courtiers;

Sat down upon the fountain’s marble edge,

One hand amid the goldfish in the pool;

And thereupon a colloquy took place

That I commend to all the chroniclers

To show how violent great hearts can lose

Their bitterness and find the honeycomb.

“I have brought a slender bride into the house;

You know the saying, ‘Change the bride with spring.’

And she and I, being sunk in happiness,

Cannot endure to think you tread these paths,

When evening stirs the jasmine bough, and yet

Are brideless.”

“I am falling into years.”

“But such as you and I do not seem old

Like men who live by habit. Every day

I ride with falcon to the river’s edge

Or carry the ringed mail upon my back,

Or court a woman; neither enemy,

Game-bird, nor woman does the same thing twice;

And so a hunter carries in the eye

A mimic of youth. Can poet’s thought

That springs from body and in body falls

Like this pure jet, now lost amid blue sky,

Now bathing lily leaf and fish’s scale,

Be mimicry?”

“What matter if our souls

Are nearer to the surface of the body

Than souls that start no game and turn no rhyme!

The soul’s own youth and not the body’s youth

Shows through our lineaments. My candle’s bright,

My lantern is too loyal not to show

That it was made in your great father’s reign,

And yet the jasmine season warms our blood.”

“Great prince, forgive the freedom of my speech:

You think that love has seasons, and you think

That if the spring bear off what the spring gave

The heart need suffer no defeat; but I

Who have accepted the Byzantine faith,

That seems unnatural to Arabian minds,

Think when I choose a bride I choose for ever;

And if her eye should not grow bright for mine

Or brighten only for some younger eye,

My heart could never turn from daily ruin,

Nor find a remedy.”

“But what if I

Have lit upon a woman who so shares

Your thirst for those old crabbed mysteries,

So strains to look beyond Our life, an eye

That never knew that strain would scarce seem bright,

And yet herself can seem youth’s very fountain,

Being all brimmed with life?”

“Were it but true

I would have found the best that life can give,

Companionship in those mysterious things

That make a man’s soul or a woman’s soul

Itself and not some other soul.”

“That love

Must needs be in this life and in what follows

Unchanging and at peace, and it is right

Every philosopher should praise that love.

But I being none can praise its opposite.

It makes my passion stronger but to think

Like passion stirs the peacock and his mate,

The wild stag and the doe; that mouth to mouth

Is a man’s mockery of the changeless soul.”

And thereupon his bounty gave what now

Can shake more blossom from autumnal chill

Than all my bursting springtime knew. A girl

Perched in some window of her mother’s house

Had watched my daily passage to and fro;

Had heard impossible history of my past;

Imagined some impossible history

Lived at my side; thought time’s disfiguring touch

Gave but more reason for a woman’s care.

Yet was it love of me, or was it love

Of the stark mystery that has dazed my sight,

perplexed her fantasy and planned her care?

Or did the torchlight of that mystery

Pick out my features in such light and shade

Two contemplating passions chose one theme

Through sheer bewilderment? She had not paced

The garden paths, nor counted up the rooms,

Before she had spread a book upon her knees

And asked about the pictures or the text;

And often those first days I saw her stare

On old dry writing in a learned tongue,

On old dry faggots that could never please

The extravagance of spring; or move a hand

As if that writing or the figured page

Were some dear cheek.

Upon a moonless night

I sat where I could watch her sleeping form,

And wrote by candle-light; but her form moved.

And fearing that my light disturbed her sleep

I rose that I might screen it with a cloth.

I heard her voice, “Turn that I may expound

What’s bowed your shoulder and made pale your cheek

And saw her sitting upright on the bed;

Or was it she that spoke or some great Djinn?

I say that a Djinn spoke. A livelong hour

She seemed the learned man and I the child;

Truths without father came, truths that no book

Of all the uncounted books that I have read,

Nor thought out of her mind or mine begot,

Self-born, high-born, and solitary truths,

Those terrible implacable straight lines

Drawn through the wandering vegetative dream,

Even those truths that when my bones are dust

Must drive the Arabian host.

The voice grew still,

And she lay down upon her bed and slept,

But woke at the first gleam of day, rose up

And swept the house and sang about her work

In childish ignorance of all that passed.

A dozen nights of natural sleep, and then

When the full moon swam to its greatest height

She rose, and with her eyes shut fast in sleep

Walked through the house. Unnoticed and unfelt

I wrapped her in a hooded cloak, and she,

Half running, dropped at the first ridge of the desert

And there marked out those emblems on the sand

That day by day I study and marvel at,

With her white finger. I led her home asleep

And once again she rose and swept the house

In childish ignorance of all that passed.

Even to-day, after some seven years

When maybe thrice in every moon her mouth

Murmured the wisdom of the desert Djinns,

She keeps that ignorance, nor has she now

That first unnatural interest in my books.

It seems enough that I am there; and yet,

Old fellow-student, whose most patient ear

Heard all the anxiety of my passionate youth,

It seems I must buy knowledge with my peace.

What if she lose her ignorance and so

Dream that I love her only for the voice,

That every gift and every word of praise

Is but a payment for that midnight voice

That is to age what milk is to a child?

Were she to lose her love, because she had lost

Her confidence in mine, or even lose

Its first simplicity, love, voice and all,

All my fine feathers would be plucked away

And I left shivering. The voice has drawn

A quality of wisdom from her love’s

Particular quality. The signs and shapes;

All those abstractions that you fancied were

From the great Treatise of Parmenides;

All, all those gyres and cubes and midnight things

Are but a new expression of her body

Drunk with the bitter sweetness of her youth.

And now my utmost mystery is out.

A woman’s beauty is a storm-tossed banner;

Under it wisdom stands, and I alone —

Of all Arabia’s lovers I alone —

Nor dazzled by the embroidery, nor lost

In the confusion of its night-dark folds,

Can hear the armed man speak.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005