Collected Poems, by William Butler Yeats

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.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02