16+ Best William Butler Yeats Poems You Should Read

William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. A pillar of the Irish literary establishment, he helped to found the Abbey Theatre, and in his later years served two terms as a Senator of the Irish Free State.

If you’re searching for famous poems ever that perfectly capture what you’d like to say or just want to feel inspired yourself, browse through an amazing collection of selected Sarojini Naidu poems, best known Percy Bysshe Shelley poems, and most famous Robert William Service poems.

Famous William Butler Yeats Poems

To A Shade

IF you have revisited the town, thin Shade,
Whether to look upon your monument
(I wonder if the builder has been paid)
Or happier-thoughted when the day is spent
To drink of that salt breath out of the sea
When grey gulls flit about instead of men,
And the gaunt houses put on majesty:
Let these content you and be gone again;
For they are at their old tricks yet.
A man
Of your own passionate serving kind who had brought
In his full hands what, had they only known,
Had given their children’s children loftier thought,
Sweeter emotion, working in their veins
Like gentle blood, has been driven from the place,
And instilt heaped upon him for his pains,
And for his open-handedness, disgrace;
Your enemy, an old fotil mouth, had set
The pack upon him.
Go, unquiet wanderer,
And gather the Glasnevin coverlet
About your head till the dust stops your ear,
The time for you to taste of that Salt breath
And listen at the corners has not come;
You had enough of sorrow before death —
Away, away! You are safer in the tomb.

Under Saturn

DO not because this day I have grown saturnine
Imagine that lost love, inseparable from my thought
Because I have no other youth, can make me pine;
For how should I forget the wisdom that you brought,
The comfort that you made? Although my wits have gone
On a fantastic ride, my horse’s flanks are spurred
By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen,
And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard,
And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died
Before my time, seem like a vivid memory.
You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said
Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay —
No, no, not said, but cried it out — ‘You have come again,
And surely after twenty years it was time to come.’
I am thinking of a child’s vow sworn in vain
Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.

The People

‘WHAT have I earned for all that work,’ I said,
‘For all that I have done at my own charge?
The daily spite of this unmannerly town,
Where who has served the most is most defaned,
The reputation of his lifetime lost
Between the night and morning. I might have lived,
And you know well how great the longing has been,
Where every day my footfall Should have lit
In the green shadow of Ferrara wall;
Or climbed among the images of the past —
The unperturbed and courtly images —
Evening and morning, the steep street of Urbino
To where the Duchess and her people talked
The stately midnight through until they stood
In their great window looking at the dawn;
I might have had no friend that could not mix
Courtesy and passion into one like those
That saw the wicks grow yellow in the dawn;
I might have used the one substantial right
My trade allows: chosen my company,
And chosen what scenery had pleased me best.
Thereon my phoenix answered in reproof,
‘The drunkards, pilferers of public funds,
All the dishonest crowd I had driven away,
When my luck changed and they dared meet my face,
Crawled from obscurity, and set upon me
Those I had served and some that I had fed;
Yet never have I, now nor any time,
Complained of the people.’
All I could reply
Was: ‘You, that have not lived in thought but deed,
Can have the purity of a natural force,
But I, whose virtues are the definitions
Of the analytic mind, can neither close
The eye of the mind nor keep my tongue from speech.’
And yet, because my heart leaped at her words,
I was abashed, and now they come to mind
After nine years, I sink my head abashed.

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 somc 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 empticd 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 cate 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 thc 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.

The Realists

HOPE that you may understand!
What can books of men that wive
In a dragon-guarded land,
paintings of the dolphin-drawn
Sea-nymphs in their pearly wagons
Do, but awake a hope to live
That had gone
With the dragons?

The Two Kings

KING EOCHAID came at sundown to a wood
Westward of Tara. Hurrying to his queen
He had outridden his war-wasted men
That with empounded cattle trod the mire,
And where beech-trees had mixed a pale green light
With the ground-ivy’s blue, he saw a stag
Whiter than curds, its eyes the tint of the sea.
Because it stood upon his path and seemed
More hands in height than any stag in the world
He sat with tightened rein and loosened mouth
Upon his trembling horse, then drove the spur;
But the stag stooped and ran at him, and passed,
Rending the horse’s flank. King Eochaid reeled,
Then drew his sword to hold its levelled point
Against the stag. When horn and steel were met
The horn resounded as though it had been silver,
A sweet, miraculous, terrifying sound.
Horn locked in sword, they tugged and struggled there
As though a stag and unicorn were met
Among the African Mountains of the Moon,
Until at last the double horns, drawn backward,
Butted below the single and so pierced
The entrails of the horse. Dropping his sword
King Eochaid seized the horns in his strong hands
And stared into the sea-green eye, and so
Hither and thither to and fro they trod
Till all the place was beaten into mire.
The strong thigh and the agile thigh were met,
The hands that gathered up the might of the world,
And hoof and horn that had sucked in their speed
Amid the elaborate wilderness of the air.
Through bush they plunged and over ivied root,
And where the stone struck fire, while in the leaves
A squirrel whinnied and a bird screamed out;
But when at last he forced those sinewy flanks
Against a beech-bole, he threw down the beast
And knelt above it with drawn knife. On the instant
It vanished like a shadow, and a cry
So mournful that it seemed the cry of one
Who had lost some unimaginable treasure
Wandered between the blue and the green leaf
And climbed into the air, crumbling away,
Till all had seemed a shadow or a vision
But for the trodden mire, the pool of blood,
The disembowelled horse.
King Eochaid ran
Toward peopled Tara, nor stood to draw his breath
Until he came before the painted wall,
The posts of polished yew, circled with bronze,
Of the great door; but though the hanging lamps
Showed their faint light through the unshuttered windows,
Nor door, nor mouth, nor slipper made a noise,
Nor on the ancient beaten paths, that wound
From well-side or from plough-land, was there noisc;
Nor had there been the noise of living thing
Before him or behind, but that far off
On the horizon edge bellowed the herds.
Knowing that silence brings no good to kings,
And mocks returning victory, he passed
Between the pillars with a beating heart
And saw where in the midst of the great hall
pale-faced, alone upon a bench, Edain
Sat upright with a sword before her feet.
Her hands on either side had gripped the bench.
Her eyes were cold and steady, her lips tight.
Some passion had made her stone. Hearing a foot
She started and then knew whose foot it was;
But when he thought to take her in his arms
She motioned him afar, and rose and spoke:
‘I have sent among the fields or to the woods
The fighting-men and servants of this house,
For I would have your judgment upon one
Who is self-accused. If she be innocent
She would not look in any known man’s face
Till judgment has been given, and if guilty,
Would never look again on known man’s face.’
And at these words hc paled, as she had paled,
Knowing that he should find upon her lips
The meaning of that monstrous day.
Then she:
‘You brought me where your brother Ardan sat
Always in his one seat, and bid me care him
Through that strange illness that had fixed him there.
And should he die to heap his burial-mound
And catve his name in Ogham.’ Eochaid said,
‘He lives?’ ‘He lives and is a healthy man.’
‘While I have him and you it matters little
What man you have lost, what evil you have found.’
‘I bid them make his bed under this roof
And carried him his food with my own hands,
And so the weeks passed by. But when I said,
”What is this trouble?” he would answer nothing,
Though always at my words his trouble grew;
And I but asked the more, till he cried out,
Weary of many questions: ”There are things
That make the heart akin to the dumb stone.”
Then I replied, ”Although you hide a secret,
Hopeless and dear, or terrible to think on,
Speak it, that I may send through the wide world
Day after day you question me, and I,
Because there is such a storm amid my thoughts
I shall be carried in the gust, command,
Forbid, beseech and waste my breath.” Then I:
Although the thing that you have hid were evil,
The speaking of it could be no great wrong,
And evil must it be, if done ’twere worse
Than mound and stone that keep all virtue in,
And loosen on us dreams that waste our life,
Shadows and shows that can but turn the brain.”
but finding him still silent I stooped down
And whispering that none but he should hear,
Said, ”If a woman has put this on you,
My men, whether it please her or displease,
And though they have to cross the Loughlan waters
And take her in the middle of armed men,
Shall make her look upon her handiwork,
That she may quench the rick she has fired; and though
She may have worn silk clothes, or worn a crown,
She’II not be proud, knowing within her heart
That our sufficient portion of the world
Is that we give, although it be brief giving,
Happiness to children and to men.”
Then he, driven by his thought beyond his thought,
And speaking what he would not though he would,
Sighed, ”You, even you yourself, could work the cure!”
And at those words I rose and I went out
And for nine days he had food from other hands,
And for nine days my mind went whirling round
The one disastrous zodiac, muttering
That the immedicable mound’s beyond
Our questioning, beyond our pity even.
But when nine days had gone I stood again
Before his chair and bending down my head
I bade him go when all his household slept
To an old empty woodman’s house that’s hidden
Westward of Tara, among the hazel-trees —
For hope would give his limbs the power — and await
A friend that could, he had told her, work his cure
And would be no harsh friend.
When night had deepened,
I groped my way from beech to hazel wood,
Found that old house, a sputtering torch within,
And stretched out sleeping on a pile of skins
Ardan, and though I called to him and tried
To Shake him out of sleep, I could not rouse him.
I waited till the night was on the turn,
Then fearing that some labourer, on his way
To plough or pasture-land, might see me there,
Went out.
Among the ivy-covered rocks,
As on the blue light of a sword, a man
Who had unnatural majesty, and eyes
Like the eyes of some great kite scouring the woods,
Stood on my path. Trembling from head to foot
I gazed at him like grouse upon a kite;
But with a voice that had unnatural music,
”A weary wooing and a long,” he said,
”Speaking of love through other lips and looking
Under the eyelids of another, for it was my craft
That put a passion in the sleeper there,
And when I had got my will and drawn you here,
Where I may speak to you alone, my craft
Sucked up the passion out of him again
And left mere sleep. He’ll wake when the sun wakes,
push out his vigorous limbs and rub his eyes,
And wonder what has ailed him these twelve months.”
I cowered back upon the wall in terror,
But that sweet-sounding voice ran on: ”Woman,
I was your husband when you rode the air,
Danced in the whirling foam and in the dust,
In days you have not kept in memory,
Being betrayed into a cradle, and I come
That I may claim you as my wife again.”
I was no longer terrified — his voice
Had half awakened some old memory —
Yet answered him, ”I am King Eochaid’s wife
And with him have found every happiness
Women can find.” With a most masterful voice,
That made the body seem as it were a string
Under a bow, he cried, ”What happiness
Can lovers have that know their happiness
Must end at the dumb stone? But where we build
Our sudden palaces in the still air
pleasure itself can bring no weariness.
Nor can time waste the cheek, nor is there foot
That has grown weary of the wandering dance,
Nor an unlaughing mouth, but mine that mourns,
Among those mouths that sing their sweethearts’ praise,
Your empty bed.” ”How should I love,” I answered,
”Were it not that when the dawn has lit my bed
And shown my husband sleeping there, I have sighcd,
‘Your strength and nobleness will pass away’?
Or how should love be worth its pains were it not
That when he has fallen asleep within my atms,
Being wearied out, I love in man the child?
What can they know of love that do not know
She builds her nest upon a narrow ledge
Above a windy precipice?” Then he:
”Seeing that when you come to the deathbed
You must return, whether you would or no,
This human life blotted from memory,
Why must I live some thirty, forty years,
Alone with all this useless happiness?”
Thereon he seized me in his arms, but I
Thrust him away with both my hands and cried,
”Never will I believe there is any change
Can blot out of my memory this life
Sweetened by death, but if I could believe,
That were a double hunger in my lips
For what is doubly brief.”
And now the shape
My hands were pressed to vanished suddenly.
I staggered, but a beech-tree stayed my fall,
And clinging to it I could hear the cocks
Crow upon Tara.’
King Eochaid bowed his head
And thanked her for her kindness to his brother,
For that she promised, and for that refused.
Thereon the bellowing of the empounded herds
Rose round the walls, and through the bronze-ringed door
Jostled and shouted those war-wasted men,
And in the midst King Eochaid’s brother stood,
And bade all welcome, being ignorant.

The Three Hermits

THREE old hermits took the air
By a cold and desolate sea,
First was muttering a prayer,
Second rummaged for a flea;
On a windy stone, the third,
Giddy with his hundredth year,
Sang unnoticed like a bird:
‘Though the Door of Death is near
And what waits behind the door,
Three times in a single day
I, though upright on the shore,
Fall asleep when I should pray.’
So the first, but now the second:
‘We’re but given what we have eamed
When all thoughts and deeds are reckoned,
So it’s plain to be discerned
That the shades of holy men
Who have failed, being weak of will,
Pass the Door of Birth again,
And are plagued by crowds, until
They’ve the passion to escape.’
Moaned the other, ‘They are thrown
Into some most fearful shape.’
But the second mocked his moan:
‘They are not changed to anything,
Having loved God once, but maybe
To a poet or a king
Or a witty lovely lady.’
While he’d rummaged rags and hair,
Caught and cracked his flea, the third,
Giddy with his hundredth year,
Sang unnoticed like a bird.

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 Gift Of Harun Al-Rashid

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 housc
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.

The Happy Townland

THERE’S many a strong farmer
Whose heart would break in two,
If he could see the townland
That we are riding to;
Boughs have their fruit and blossom
At all times of the year;
Rivers are running over
With red beer and brown beer.
An old man plays the bagpipes
In a golden and silver wood;
Queens, their eyes blue like the ice,
Are dancing in a crowd.
The little fox he murmured,
‘O what of the world’s bane?’
The sun was laughing sweetly,
The moon plucked at my rein;
But the little red fox murmured,
‘O do not pluck at his rein,
He is riding to the townland
That is the world’s bane.’
When their hearts are so high
That they would come to blows,
They unhook rheir heavy swords
From golden and silver boughs;
But all that are killed in battle
Awaken to life again.
It is lucky that their story
Is not known among men,
For O, the strong farmers
That would let the spade lie,
Their hearts would be like a cup
That somebody had drunk dry.
The little fox he murmured,
‘O what of the world’s bane?’
The sun was laughing sweetly,
The moon plucked at my rcin;
But the little red fox murmured,
‘O do not pluck at his rein,
He is riding to the townland
That is the world’s bane.’
Michael will unhook his trumpet
From a bough overhead,
And blow a little noise
When the supper has been spread.
Gabriel will come from the water
With a fish-tail, and talk
Of wonders that have happened
On wet roads where men walk.
And lift up an old horn
Of hammered silver, and drink
Till he has fallen asleep
Upon the starry brink.
The little fox he murmured,
‘O what of the world’s bane?’
The sun was laughing sweetly,
The moon plucked at my rein;
But the little red fox murmured.
‘O do not pluck at his rein,
He is riding to the townland
That is the world’s bane.’

The Death of Cuchulain

The harlot sang to the beggar-man.
I meet them face to face,
Conall, Cuchulain, Usna’s boys,
All that most ancient race;
Maeve had three in an hour, they say.
I adore those clever eyes,
Those muscular bodies, but can get
No grip upon their thighs.
I meet those long pale faces,
Hear their great horses, then
Recall what centuries have passed
Since they were living men.
That there are still some living
That do my limbs unclothe,
But that the flesh my flesh is gripped
I both adore and loathe.

Are those things that men adore and loathe
Their sole reality?
What stood in the Post Office
With Pearse and Connolly?
What comes out of the mountain
Where men first shed their blood?
Who thought Cuchulain till it seemed
He stood where they had stood?

No body like his body
Has modern woman borne,
But an old man looking back in life
Imagines it in scorn.
A statue’s there to mark the place,
By Oliver Sheppard done.
So ends the tale that the harlot
Sang to the beggar-man.

The Lover Speaks To The Hearers Of His Songs In Coming Days

O WOMEN, kneeling by your altar-rails long hence,
When songs I wove for my beloved hide the prayer,
And smoke from this dead heart drifts through the violet air
And covers away the smoke of myrrh and frankincense;
Bend down and pray for all that sin I wove in song,
Till the Attorney for Lost Souls cry her sweet cry,
And.call to my beloved and me: ‘No longer fly
Amid the hovering, piteouS, penitential throng.’

Three Songs To The Same Tune

I
GRANDFATHER sang it under the gallows:
‘ Hear, gentlemen, ladies, and all mankind:
Money is good and a girl might be better.
But good strong blows are delights to the mind.’
There, standing on the catt,
He sang it from his heart.
Those fanatics all that we do would undo;
Down the fanatic, down the clown;
Down, down, hammer them down,
Down to the tune of O’Donnell Abu.
‘A girl I had, but she followed another,
Money I had, and it went in the night,
Strong drink I had, and it brought me to sorrow,
But a good strong cause and blows are delight.’
All there caught up the tune:
‘On, on, my darling man’.
Those fanatics all that we do would undo;
Down the fanatic, down the clown;
Down, down, hammer them down,
Down to the tune of O’Donnell Abu.
‘Money is good and a girl might be better,
No matter what happens and who takes the fall,
But a good strong cause’ — the rope gave a jerk there,
No more sang he, for his throat was too small;
But he kicked before he died,
He did it out of pride.
Those fanatics all that we do would undo;
Down the fanatic, down the clown;
Down, down, hammer them down,
Down to the tune of O’Donnell Abu.

II
Justify all those renowned generations;
They left their bodies to fatten the wolves,
They left their homesteads to fatten the foxes,
Fled to far countries, or sheltered themselves
In cavem, crevice, hole,
Defending Ireland’s soul.
‘Drown all the dogs,’ said the fierce young woman,
‘They killed my goose and a cat.
Drown, drown in the water-but,
<1Drown all the dogs,’ said the fierce young woman.
Justify all those renowned generations,
Justify all that have sunk in their blood,
Justify all that have died on the scaffold,
Justify all that have fled, that have stood,
Stood or have marched the night long
Singing, singing a song.
‘Drown all the dogs,’ said the fierce young woman.
‘They killed my goose and a cat.
Drown, drown in the water-butt,
Drown all the dogs,’ said the fierce young woman.
Fail, and that history turns into rubbish,
All that great past to a trouble of fools;
Those that come after shall mock at O’Donnell,
Mock at the memory of both O’Neills,
Mock Emmet, mock Parnell:
All the renown that fell.
‘Drown all the dogs,’ said the fierce young woman,
‘They killed my goose and a cat.
Drown, drown in the water-butt,
Drown all the dogs,’ said the fierce young woman.

III
The soldier takes pride in saluting his Captain,
The devotee proffers a knee to his Lord,
Some back a mare thrown from a thoroughbred,
Troy backed its Helen; Troy died and adored;
Great nations blossom above;
A slave bows down to a slave.
Who’d care to dig em,’ said the old, old man,
‘Those six feet marked in chalk?
Much I talk, more I walk;
Time I were buried,’ said the old, old man.
When nations are empty up there at the top,
When order has weakened or faction is strong,
Time for us all to pick out a good tune,
Take to the roads and go marching along.
March, march — How does it run? —
O any old words to a tune.
‘Who’d care to dig ’em,’ said the old, old man,
‘Those six feet marked in chalk?
Much I talk, more I walk;
Time I were buried,’ said the old, old man.
Soldiers take pride in saluting their Captain,
Where are the captains that govetn mankind?
What happens a tree that has nothing within it?
O marching wind, O a blast of the wind.
Marching, marching along.
March, march, lift up the song:
‘Who’d care to dig ’em,’ said the old, old man.
‘Those six feet marked in chalk?
Much I talk, more I walk;
Time I were buried,’ said the old, old man.

Tom O’Roughley

‘THOUGH logic-choppers rule the town,
And every man and maid and boy
Has marked a distant object down,
An aimless joy is a pure joy,’
Or so did Tom O’Roughley say
That saw the surges running by.
‘And wisdom is a butterfly
And not a gloomy bird of prey.
‘If little planned is little sinned
But little need the grave distress.
What’s dying but a second wind?
How but in zig-zag wantonness
Could trumpeter Michael be so brave?’
Or something of that sort he said,
‘And if my dearest friend were dead
I’d dance a measure on his grave.’

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.

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.

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