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  bullet   William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats

Born: June 13, 1865 // Died: January 18, 1939

William Butler Yeats W. B. Yeats, b. Dublin, June 13, 1865, d. Jan. 28, 1939, was perhaps the greatest English-language poet of the 20th century. The major defining elements of Yeats's poetic career were visible by his 24th year. He had formed a profound attachment to the county of Sligo, where he stayed for long periods while living in London (1867-83); his interest in the occult led him to found (1885) the Dublin Hermetic Society and to join (1887) the London Lodge of Theosophists; his 1885 meeting with the nationalist John O'Leary prompted his discovery of Ireland as a literary subject and his commitment to the cause of Irish national identity; in 1889 he fell in love with Maud Gonne and published The Wanderings of Oisin. Yeats's lifework was an attempt to "hammer into unity" these evolving areas of his experience.

Between 1889 and 1902, Yeats sustained these original commitments. Irish myth and landscapes fill the poems of The Rose (1893). His edition of Blake (1893; with Edwin Ellis) influenced his own thought. He enshrined his unrequited love for Maud Gonne in the stylized, erotic, symbolic verses of The Wind among the Reeds (1899). A meeting (1896) with Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory and visits to Coole Park provided a model of social grace and generosity that was practically useful and, in his poetry, of symbolic importance. Head of the Order of the Golden Dawn (London, 1900), he became (1902) President of the Irish National Theatre Society (later the Abbey Theatre) for which he had written, among other plays, the patriotic Cathleen in Houlihan (1902). Motivating such activities was Yeats's desire to raise national consciousness by cultural means and to extend his own awareness of himself as a poet, as a shaper not only of verses but of the world.

Two events confirmed Yeats's dual role as poet and public man. In 1922, at the end of the Anglo-Irish war (1916-22), he became a senator of the Irish Free State. In 1923 he received the Nobel Prize for literature.

This willed coincidence between his life and work guarantees Yeats's stature as the greatest modern poet in the English language. His life is a spectacular series of revisions and "re-makings" of the self; its accidents he repeatedly translated into the permanencies of art, his own history into myth. At 19 years of age, "he lived, breathed, ate, drank and slept poetry." In his last letter he wrote, "Man can embody truth but he cannot know it... You can refute Hegel, but not the Saint or the Song of Sixpence." Sanctity and poetry were the embodiments of truth. Yeats successfully staked his life on the second: his poetry embodies the truth of his life. As if to carry this truth beyond the grave, the words on his tombstone are the last words in his Collected Poems:

"Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!"

  William Butler Yeats's Poetry: (click on a title to read a poem)
  An Irish Airman Foresees...   The Arrow   The Dolls
  The Falling of the Leaves   The Cat and the Moon   Into the Twilight
  Brown Penny   The Rose in the Deeps of...   The Ragged Wood
  To a Child Dancing in the...   Solomon and the Witch   Love Song

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 country 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.

The Arrow
I thought of your beauty, and this arrow,
Made out of a wild thought, is in my marrow.
There's no man may look upon her, no man,
As when newly grown to be a woman,
Tall and noble but with face and bosom
Delicate in colour as apple blossom.
This beauty's kinder, yet for a reason
I could weep that the old is out of season.

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."

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 patt, ere the season of passion forget us,
With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.

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.

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.

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.

The Rose in the Deeps of his Heart
All things uncomely and broken,
All things worn-out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway,
The creak of a lumbering cart,
The heavy steps of the ploughman,
splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms
A rose in the deeps of my heart.
The wrong of unshapely things
Is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew
And sit on a green knoll apart,
With the earth and the sky and the water,
Remade, like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms
A rose in the deeps of my heart.

The Ragged Wood
O, hurry, where by water, among the trees,
The delicate-stepping stag and his lady sigh,
When they have looked upon their images
Would none had ever loved but you and I!

Or have you heard that sliding silver-shoed
Pale silver-proud queen-woman of the sky,
When the sun looked out of his golden hood?
O, that none ever loved but you and I!

O hurry to the ragged wood, for there
I will drive all those lovers out and cry
O, my share of the world, O, yellow hair!
No one has ever loved but you and I.

To a Child Dancing in the Wind
Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best laborer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of the wind?

Has no one said those daring
Kind eyes should be more learn’d?
Or warned you how despairing
The moths are when they are burned,
I could have warned you,
but you are young,
So we speak a different tongue.

You will take whatever’s offered
And dream that all
the world’s a friend,
Suffer as your mother suffered,
Be as broken in the end.

But I am old and you are young,
And I speak a barbarous tongue.

Solomon and the Witch
And thus declared the Arab lady:
"Last night where under the wild moon
On grassy mattress I had lain me,
Within my arms great Solomon,
I suddenly cried out in a strange tongue
Not his, not mine."
And he that knew
All sounds by bird or angel sung
Answered: "A crested cockerel crew
Upon 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.
A lover with a spider's eye
Will found out some appropriate pain,
Aye, though all passion's in the glance,
For every nerve: lover tests lover
With cruelties of Choice and Chance;
And when at last the 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 it 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.
Oh, Solomon! Let us try again."

Love Song
My love, we will go, we will go, I and you,
And away in the woods we will scatter the dew;
And the salmon behold, and the ousel too,
My love, we will hear, I and you, we will hear,
The calling afar of the doe and the deer.
And the bird in the branches will cry for us clear,
And the cuckoo unseen in his festival mood;
And death, oh my fair one, will never come near
In the bosom afar of the fragrant wood.

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