William Butler Yeats

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Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say?
The only business of the head in the world is to bow a ceaseless obeisance to the heart.
Words are always getting conventionalized to some secondary meaning. It is one of the works of poetry to take the truants in custody and bring them back to their right senses.

William Butler Yeats (13 June 186528 January 1939) was an Irish symbolist poet, dramatist and mystic. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. He compiled the Oxford Book of Modern Verse.

See also: The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats

Quotes[edit]

The friends that have it I do wrong
Whenever I remake a song
Should know what issue is at stake,
It is myself that I remake.
Hammer your thoughts into unity.
Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.
  • The only business of the head in the world is to bow a ceaseless obeisance to the heart.
    • Letter to Frederick J. Gregg (undated, Sligo, late summer, 1886)
  • This melancholy London. I sometimes imagine that the souls of the lost are compelled to walk through its streets perpetually. One feels them passing like a whiff of air.
  • I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all — the colleges I mean — like an opera.
    • Letter to Katharine Tynan (25 August 1888)
  • I hate journalists. There is nothing in them but tittering jeering emptiness. They have all made what Dante calls the Great Refusal, — that is they have ceased to be self-centered, have given up their individuality.... The shallowest people on the ridge of the earth.
    • Letter to Katharine Tynan (30 August 1888)
  • Words are always getting conventionalized to some secondary meaning. It is one of the works of poetry to take the truants in custody and bring them back to their right senses.
    • Letter to Ellen O'Leary (3 February 1889)
  • The years like great black oxen tread the world,
    And God the herdsman goads them on behind,
    And I am broken by their passing feet.
  • We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.
    • "Earth, Fire and Water" from The Celtic Twilight (1893)
  • The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.
    • Letter to the Editor, Dublin Daily Express (27 February 1895)
  • The friends that have it I do wrong
    Whenever I remake a song
    Should know what issue is at stake,
    It is myself that I remake.
    • The Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats, II, preliminary poem (1908)
  • We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
    • Per Amica Silentia Lunae (1918): Anima Hominis, part v
  • One day when I was twenty-three or twenty-four this sentence seemed to form in my head, without my willing it, much as sentences form when we are half-asleep: "Hammer your thoughts into unity." For days I could think of nothing else, and for years I tested all I did by that sentence.
    • "If I Were Four-and-Twenty," printed in Irish Statesman (23 August 1919)
  • I agree about Shaw — he is haunted by the mystery he flouts. He is an atheist who trembles in the haunted corridor.
  • This country will not always be an uncomfortable place for a country gentleman to live in, and it is most important that we should keep in this country a certain leisured class. I am afraid that Labour disagrees with me in that. On this matter I am a crusted Tory. I am of the opinion of the ancient Jewish book which says "there is no wisdom without leisure."
    • Speech, (28 March 1923), Seanad Éireann (Irish Free Senate), on the Damage to Property (Compensation) Bill [1]
  • I think you can leave the arts, superior or inferior, to the conscience of mankind.
    • Speech (7 June 1923), Seanad Éireann (Irish Free Senate), on the Censorship of Films Bill. [2]
  • The official designs of the Government, especially its designs in connection with postage stamps and coinage, may be described, I think, as the silent ambassadors of national taste.
    • Speech (3 March 1926), Seanad Éireann (Irish Free Senate), on the Coinage Bill. [3]
  • Englishmen are babes in philosophy and so prefer faction-fighting to the labour of its unfamiliar thought.
    • Letter to Olivia Shakespear (24 March 1927)
  • Man can embody truth but he cannot know it.
    • Letter to Lady Elizabeth Pelham (4 January 1939))

Crossways (1889)[edit]

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
  • 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.

  • Where dips the rocky highland
    Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
    There lies a leafy island
    Where flapping herons wake
    The drowsy water rats;
    There we've hid our faery vats,
    Full of berries
    And of reddest stolen cherries.

    Come away, O human child!
    To the waters and the wild
    With a faery, hand in hand,
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

The Song Of The Happy Shepherd[edit]

Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Grey Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head.
Full text online
  • 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.
    • l. 1–5.
  • Words alone are certain good.
    • l. 10.
  • Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.
    • l. 57.

The Rose (1893)[edit]

Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days!
Come near me, while I sing the ancient ways.
Come near, that no more blinded hy 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.
Sing of old Eire and the ancient ways:
Red Rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days.
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.
  • 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;
  • 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.
    • To The Rose Upon The Rood Of Time
  • 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.
    • To The Rose Upon The Rood Of Time
  • I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
    And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

    Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
    And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
    And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow
    Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
  • I will arise and go now, for always night and day
    I hear the lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
    While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
    I hear it in the deep heart's core.
    • The Lake Isle of Innisfree, st. 3
  • A pity beyond all telling
    Is hid in the heart of love
    :
    The folk who are buying and selling,
    The clouds on their journey above,
    The cold wet winds ever blowing,
    And the shadowy hazel grove
    Where mouse-grey waters are flowing,
    Threaten the head that I love.
    • The Pity Of Love; in recent years a statement which might have originated as a misquotation of the first lines of this has been attributed to Oscar Wilde: "To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love." — no occurrence prior to 1999 has yet been located.
  • The brawling of a sparrow in the eaves,
    The brilliant moon and all the milky sky,
    And all that famous harmony of leaves,
    Had blotted out man’s image and his cry.
  • When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

The Rose of the World[edit]

Full text online
  • 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.
    • St. 1
  • 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.
    • St. 2
  • 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.
    • St. 3

The Land of Heart's Desire (1894)[edit]

Land of Heart's Desire,
Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,
But joy is wisdom, time an endless song.
  • The Land of Faery,
    Where nobody gets old and godly and grave
    ,
    Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,
    Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue.
    • Lines 48–52
  • Life moves out of a red flare of dreams
    Into a common light of common hours,
    Until old age bring the red flare again.
  • I would mould a world of fire and dew
    With no one bitter, grave, or over wise,
    And nothing marred or old to do you wrong.
  • Land of Heart's Desire,
    Where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood,
    But joy is wisdom, time an endless song.
    • Lines 373–375

The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)[edit]

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.
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

In The Seven Woods (1904)[edit]

Time can but make her beauty over again:
Because of that great nobleness of hers
The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs,
Burns but more clearly.
Everything that's lovely is but a brief, dreamy, kind of delight.
O my share of the world, O yellow hair!
No one has ever loved but you and I.
  • 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 house to shoot, still hands
    A cloudy quiver over Pairc-na-lee.
  • 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
    .
  • One that is ever kind said yesterday:
    'Your well-belovéd's hair has threads of grey,
    And little shadows come about her eyes;
    Time can but make it easier to be wise
    Though now it seems impossible, and so
    All that you need is patience.'

    Heart cries, 'No,
    I have not a crumb of comfort, not a grain.
    Time can but make her beauty over again:
    Because of that great nobleness of hers
    The fire that stirs about her, when she stirs,
    Burns but more clearly. O she had not these ways
    When all the wild summer was in her gaze.'

    O heart! O heart! if she'd but turn her head,
    You'd know the folly of being comforted.
  • Never give all the heart, for love
    Will hardly seem worth thinking of
    To passionate women if it seem
    Certain
    , and they never dream
    That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
    For everything that's lovely is
    but a brief, dreamy, kind of delight.

    O never give the heart outright,
    For they, for all smooth lips can say,
    Have given their hearts up to the play.
    And who could play it well enough
    If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
    He that made this knows all the cost,
    For he gave all his heart and lost.
  • 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 hurry where by water among the trees
    The delicate-stepping stag and his lady sigh,
    When they have but 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.

  • 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.

Adam's Curse[edit]

A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much laboring.
  • 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.
    • St. 1
  • 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.
    • St. 3
  • 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.
    • St. 5

The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910)[edit]

I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
Though leaves are many, the root is one.
O heart, be at peace, because
Nor knave nor dolt can break
What's not for their applause…
She, singing upon her road,
Half lion, half child, is at peace.
Was there ever a dog that praised his fleas?
  • 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?
  • The fascination of what's difficult
    Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
    Spontaneous joy and natural content
    Out of my heart.
    There's something ails our colt
    That must, as if it had not holy blood
    Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
    Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
    As though it dragged road-metal. My curse on plays
    That have to be set up in fifty ways,
    On the day's war with every knave and dolt,
    Theatre business, management of men.
    I swear before the dawn comes round again
    I'll find the stable and pull out the bolt.
  • Wine comes in at the mouth
    And love comes in at the eye;
    That's all we shall know for truth
    Before we grow old and die.
    I lift the glass to my mouth,
    I look at you, and I sigh.
  • 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.
  • I that have not your faith, how shall I know
    That in the blinding light beyond the grave
    We’ll find so good a thing as that we have lost?
    The hourly kindness, the day’s common speech,
    The habitual content of each with each
    When neither soul nor body has been crossed.
  • I swayed upon the gaudy stern
    The butt-end of a steering-oar,
    And saw wherever I could turn
    A crowd upon a shore.
    And though I would have hushed the crowd,
    There was no mother's son but said,
    'What is the figure in a shroud
    Upon a gaudy bed?'
    And after running at the brim
    Cried out upon that thing beneath
    --It had such dignity of a limb--
    By the sweet name of Death.
    Though I'd my finger on my lip,
    What could I but take up the song?
    And running crowd and gaudy ship
    Cried out the whole night long,
    Crying amid the glittering sea,
    Naming it with the ecstatic breath,
    Because it had such dignity,
    By the sweet name of Death.
  • 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 a storm,
    Would not painters pain 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.
  • O heart, be at peace, because
    Nor knave nor dolt can break
    What's not for their applause

    Being for a woman's sake.
    Enough if the work has seemed,
    So did she your strength renew,
    A dream that a lion had dreamed
    Till the wilderness cried aloud,
    A secret between you two,
    Between the proud and the proud.

    What, still you would have their praise!
    But here's a haughtier text,
    The labyrinth of her days
    That her own strangeness perplexed;
    And how what her dreaming gave
    Earned slander, ingratitude,
    From self-same dolt and knave;
    Aye, and worse wrong than these.
    Yet she, singing upon her road,
    Half lion, half child, is at peace.

  • Have you made greatness your companion,
    Although it be for children that you sigh:
    These are the clouds about the fallen sun,
    The majesty that shuts his burning eye.
  • 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.

Responsibilities (1914)[edit]

Pardon, old fathers, if you still remain
Somewhere in ear-shot for the story’s end.
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away…
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat …Song, let them take it,
For there’s more enterprise
In walking naked.
  • While I, that reed-throated whisperer
    Who comes at need, although not now as once
    A clear articulation in the air,
    But inwardly, surmise companions
    Beyond the fling of the dull ass’s hoof
    Ben Jonson’s phrase—and find when June is come
    At Kyle-na-no under that ancient roof
    A sterner conscience and a friendlier home,
    I can forgive even that wrong of wrongs,
    Those undreamt accidents that have made me
    —Seeing that Fame has perished that long while,
    Being but a part of ancient ceremony—
    Notorious, till all my priceless things
    Are but a post the passing dogs defile.
  • Was it for this the wild geese spread
    The grey wing upon every tide;
    For this that all that blood was shed,
    For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
    And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
    All that delirium of the brave?
    Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
  • Now all the truth is out,
    Be secret and take defeat
    From any brazen throat,
    For how can you compete,
    Being honour bred, with one
    Who, were it proved he lies,
    Were neither shamed in his own
    Nor in his neighbours’ eyes?
    Bred to a harder thing
    Than Triumph, turn away
    And like a laughing string
    Whereon mad fingers play
    Amid a place of stone,
    Be secret and exult,
    Because of all things known
    That is most difficult.
  • Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
    In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
    Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
    With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
    And all their helms of Silver hovering side by side,
    And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
    Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
    The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
  • I made my song a coat
    Covered with embroideries
    Out of old mythologies
    From heel to throat
    ;
    But the fools caught it,
    Wore it in the world’s eyes
    As though they’d wrought it.
    Song, let them take it,
    For there’s more enterprise
    In walking naked.

The Wild Swans at Coole (1919)[edit]

I would be ignorant as the dawn…
I would be — for no knowledge is worth a straw — Ignorant and wanton as the dawn.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold…
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…
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.
All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
Their angry tears, are gone.
I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.
  • I would be ignorant as the dawn
    That merely stood, rocking the glittering coach
    Above the cloudy shoulders of the horses;
    I would be — for no knowledge is worth a straw —
    Ignorant and wanton as the dawn.
  • The trees are in their autumn beauty,
    The woodland paths are dry,
    Under the October twilight the water
    Mirrors a still sky.
  • Unwearied still, lover by lover,
    They paddle in the cold
    Companionable streams or climb the air;
    Their hearts have not grown old.
    • The Wild Swans At Coole, st. 4
  • Some burn damp faggots, others may consume
    The entire combustible world in one small room
    As though dried straw, and if we turn about
    The bare chimney is gone black out
    Because the work had finished in that flare.
    Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
    As ’twere all life’s epitome.
    What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?
  • I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind
    That shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind
    All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved
    Or boyish intellect approved,
    With some appropriate commentary on each;
    Until imagination brought
    A fitter welcome; but a thought
    Of that late death took all my heart for speech.
    • In Memory Of Major Robert Gregory, st. 12
  • 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.
  • I know what wages beauty gives,
    How hard a life her servant lives,
    Yet praise the winters gone:
    There is not a fool can call me friend,
    And I may dine at journey’s end
    With Landor and with Donne.
  • All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
    All wear the carpet with their shoes;
    All think what other people think;
    All know the man their neighbour knows.
    Lord, what would they say
    Did their Catullus walk that way?
  • When have I last looked on
    The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
    Of the dark leopards of the moon?
    All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
    For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
    Their angry tears, are gone.
  • I knew a phoenix in my youth, so let them have their day.
  • Hands, do what you’re bid:
    Bring the balloon of the mind
    That bellies and drags in the wind
    Into its narrow shed.
  • We have lit upon the gentle, sensitive mind
    And lost the old nonchalance of the hand;
    Whether we have chosen chisel, pen or brush,
    We are but critics, or but half create,
    Timid, entangled, empty and abashed,
    Lacking the countenance of our friends.
  • Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
    Alone, important and wise,
    And lifts to the changing moon
    His changing eyes.

The Second Coming (1919)[edit]

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 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?
First published in The Dial (November 1920) and The Nation (6 November 1920), later publisehed in Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921) - Online text with some notes on variant editions - online text and notes
  • 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: a waste of desert sand;
    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
    Wind 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?

Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921)[edit]

  • 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.
  • They say such different things at school.
    • Michael Robartes and the Dancer

Easter, 1916[edit]

All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
  • 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.
    • St. 1
  • All changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.
    • St. 1
  • This other man I had dreamed
    A drunken, vain-glorious 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.
    • St. 2
  • Hearts with one purpose alone
    Through summer and winter, seem
    Enchanted to a stone
    To trouble the living stream.
    • St. 3
  • Minute by minute they live:
    The stone's in the midst of all.
    • St. 3
  • Too long a sacrifice
    Can make a stone of the heart.
    • St. 4
  • O when may it suffice?
    That is heaven's part, our part
    To murmur name upon name.
    • St. 4
  • 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.
    • St. 4.

A Prayer For My Daughter[edit]

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass…
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…
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…
  • Imagining in excited reverie
    That the future years had come,
    Dancing to a frenzied drum,
    Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
    • St. 2
  • 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.
    • St. 3
  • It’s certain that fine women eat
    A crazy salad with their meat
    Whereby the Horn of plenty is undone.
    • St. 4
  • 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.
    • St. 5
  • 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.
    • St. 6
  • 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.
    • St. 7
  • 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?
    • St. 8
  • 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.
    • St. 9

The Tower (1928)[edit]

Does the imagination dwell the most
Upon a woman won or woman lost?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
  • Never had I more
    Excited, passionate, fantastical
    Imagination, nor an ear and eye
    That more expected the impossible.
  • Does the imagination dwell the most
    Upon a woman won or woman lost?
    • The Tower, II, st. 13
  • Much did I rage when young,
    Being by the world oppressed,
    But now with flattering tongue
    It speeds the parting guest.
  • Locke sank into a swoon;
    The Garden died;
    God took the spinning-jenny
    Out of his side.
  • Being so caught up,
    So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
    Did she put on his knowledge with his power
    Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
  • 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 true faith discovered was
    When painted panel, statuary.
    Glass-mosaic, window-glass,
    Amended what was told awry
    By some peasant gospeller.

Sailing to Byzantium[edit]

Gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing…
  • That is no country for old men. The young
    In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
    —Those dying generations—at their song,
    The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
    Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
    Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
    Caught in that sensual music all neglect
    Monuments of unaging intellect.
    • St. 1
  • Consume my heart away; sick with desire
    And fastened to a dying animal
    It knows not what it is; and gather me
    Into the artifice of eternity.
    • St. 3
  • Once out of nature I shall never take
    My bodily form from any natural thing,
    But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

    Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
    To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
    Or set upon a golden bough to sing
    To lords and ladies of Byzantium
    Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
    • St. 4

Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen[edit]

Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about.
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare?
Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.
Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.
  • Many ingenious lovely things are gone
    That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,

    protected from the circle of the moon
    That pitches common things about.
    • I, st. 1
  • O what fine thought we had because we thought
    That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.
    • I, st. 2
  • All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
    And a great army but a showy thing;
    What matter that no cannon had been turned
    Into a ploughshare?
    • I, st. 3
  • Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
    Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
    Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
    To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free.
    • I, st. 4
  • The night can sweat with terror as before
    We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
    And planned to bring the world under a rule,
    Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.
    • I, st. 4
  • But is there any comfort to be found?
    Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
    What more is there to say?
    • I, st. 5-6
  • O but we dreamed to mend
    Whatever mischief seemed
    To afflict mankind, but now
    That winds of winter blow
    Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.
    • III, st. 3
  • Come let us mock at the great
    That had such burdens on the mind
    And toiled so hard and late
    To leave some monument behind,
    Nor thought of the levelling wind.
    • V, st. 1
  • Come let us mock at the wise;
    With all those calendars whereon
    They fixed old aching eyes,
    They never saw how seasons run,
    And now but gape at the sun.
    • V, st. 2
  • Come let us mock at the good
    That fancied goodness might be gay,
    And sick of solitude
    Might proclaim a holiday:
    Wind shrieked— and where are they?
    • V, st. 3
  • Mock mockers after that
    That would not lift a hand maybe
    To help good, wise or great
    To bar that foul storm out, for we
    Traffic in mockery.
    • V, st. 4

Two Songs From a Play[edit]

  • Odour of blood when Christ was slain
    Made all platonic tolerance vain
    And vain all Doric discipline.
    • II, st. 1
  • Everything that man esteems
    Endures a moment or a day.

    Love’s pleasure drives his love away,
    The painter’s brush consumes his dreams.
    • II, st. 2
  • Whatever flames upon the night
    Man’s own resinous heart has fed.
    • II, st. 2

The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933)[edit]

A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.
Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.
We loved each other and were ignorant.
  • 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.
  • Only God, my dear,
    Could love you for yourself alone
    And not your yellow hair.
  • 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.
  • The intellect of man is forced to choose
    Perfection of the life, or of the work,
    And if it take the second must refuse
    A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
  • The unpurged images of day recede;
    The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
    Night resonance recedes, night walkers’ song
    After great cathedral gong;
    A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
    All that man is,
    All mere complexities,
    The fury and the mire of human veins.
  • At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
    Flames that no faggot feeds, nor steel has lit,
    Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
    Where blood-begotten spirits come
    And all complexities of fury leave,
    Dying into a dance,
    An agony of trance,
    An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.
    • Byzantium, st. 4
  • Somewhere beyond the curtain
    Of distorting days
    Lives that lonely thing
    That shone before these eyes
    Targeted, trod like Spring.
  • ‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
    And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
    ‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
    Nor grave nor bed denied.'
  • But Love has pitched his mansion in
    The place of excrement;
    For nothing can be sole or whole
    That has not been rent.
    • Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop, st. 3
  • What were all the world’s alarms
    To mighty Paris when he found
    Sleep upon a golden bed
    That first dawn in Helen’s arms?
  • Speech after long silence; it is right,
    All other lovers being estranged or dead,
    Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
    The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
    That we descant and yet again descant
    Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
    Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
    We loved each other and were ignorant.
  • I gave what other women gave
    That stepped out of their clothes.
    But when this soul, its body off,
    Naked to naked goes,
    He it has found shall find therein
    What none other knows
    ,

    And give his own and take his own
    And rule in his own right;
    And though it loved in misery
    Close and cling so tight,
    There’s not a bird of day that dare
    Extinguish that delight.

A Dialogue of Self and Soul[edit]

I am content to live it all again
And yet again…
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.
  • 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.
    • I, st. 3
  • 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.
    • I, st. 4
  • 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?
    • II, st. 1
  • 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.
    • II, st. 3
  • 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.
    • II, st. 4

Vacillation[edit]

No man has ever lived that had enough
Of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.
Call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited for such men as come
Proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.
Seek out reality, leave things that seem.
  • All women dote upon an idle man
    Although their children need a rich estate.
    No man has ever lived that had enough
    Of children’s gratitude or woman’s love.
    • III, st. 1
  • Test every work of intellect or faith,
    And everything that your own hands have wrought
    And call those works extravagance of breath
    That are not suited for such men as come
    Proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.
    • III, st. 2
  • My fiftieth year had come and gone,
    I sat, a solitary man,
    In a crowded London shop,
    An open book and empty cup
    On the marble table-top.
    While on the shop and street I gazed
    My body of a sudden blazed;
    And twenty minutes more or less
    It seemed, so great my happiness,
    That I was blessed and could bless.
    • IV
  • Things said or done long years ago,
    Or things I did not do or say
    But thought that I might say or do,
    Weigh me down, and not a day
    But something is recalled,
    My conscience or my vanity appalled.
    • V, st. 2
  • Seek out reality, leave things that seem.
    • VII

A Full Moon in March (1935)[edit]

I pray — for word is out
And prayer comes round again —
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.
  • God guard me from those thoughts men think
    In the mind alone;
    He that sings a lasting song
    Thinks in a marrow-bone.
  • I pray — for word is out
    And prayer comes round again —
    That I may seem, though I die old,
    A foolish, passionate man.
    • A Prayer For Old Age, st. 3.

Parnell's Funeral and Other Poems (1935). Supernatural Songs [edit]

  • Whence had they come,
    The hand and lash that beat down frigid Rome?
    What sacred drama through her body heaved
    When world-transforming Charlemagne was conceived?
    Supernatural Songs, VIII, Whence Had They Come?
  • Then he struggled with the mind;
    His proud heart he left behind.

    Now his wars on God begin;
    At stroke of midnight God shall win.

    Supernatural Songs, IX, The Four Ages of Man

Last Poems (1936-1939)[edit]

Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
If soul may look and body touch,
Which is the more blest?
My temptation is quiet.
Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.
Think where man's glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends.
Because there is safety in derision
I talked about an apparition,
I took no trouble to convince,
Or seem plausible to a man of sense.
  • All perform their tragic play,
    There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
    That’s Ophelia, that Cordelia.
  • 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.
    • Lapis Lazuli, st. 2
  • Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
    Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
    • Lapis Lazuli, st. 5
  • My temptation is quiet.
    Here at life’s end
    Neither loose imagination,
    Nor the mill of the mind
    Consuming its rag and bone,
    Can make the truth known.
  • Grant me an old man’s frenzy,
    Myself must I remake
    Till I am Timon and Lear
    Or that William Blake
    Who beat upon the wall
    Till Truth obeyed his call.
    • An Acre of Grass, st. 3
  • Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
    A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
    Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
    The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.
  • You think it horrible that lust and rage
    Should dance attention upon my old age;
    They were not such a plague when I was young;
    What else have I to spur me into song?
  • You that would judge me, do not judge alone
    This book or that, come to this hallowed place
    Where my friends' portraits hang and look thereon;
    Ireland's history in their lineaments trace;
    Think where man's glory most begins and ends
    And say my glory was I had such friends.
  • Down the mountain walls
    From where pan’s cavern is
    Intolerable music falls.
    Foul goat-head, brutal arm appear,
    Belly, shoulder, bum,
    Flash fishlike; nymphs and satyrs
    Copulate in the foam.
  • Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
    His mind moves upon silence.
  • Because there is safety in derision
    I talked about an apparition,
    I took no trouble to convince,
    Or seem plausible to a man of sense.
  • I have found nothing half so good
    As my long-planned half solitude,
    Where I can sit up half the night
    With some friend that has the wit
    Not to allow his looks to tell
    When I am unintelligible.
    • The Apparitions, st. 2
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
  • Now that my ladder’s gone,
    I must lie down where all the ladders start
    In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
    • The Circus Animals' Desertion, III
  • Irish poets, earn your trade,
    Sing whatever is well made,
    Scorn the sort now growing up
    All out of shape from toe to top,
    Their unremembering hearts and heads
    Base-born products of base beds.
  • Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
    In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
    • Under Ben Bulben, VI
  • No marble, no conventional phrase;
    On limestone quarried near the spot
    By his command these words are cut:
    Cast a cold eye
    On life, on death.
    Horseman, pass by!

Quotes about Yeats[edit]

  • By mourning tongues
    The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

    But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
    An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
    The provinces of his body revolted,
    The squares of his mind were empty,
    Silence invaded the suburbs.
    The current of his feeling failed: he became his admirers.

    Now he is scattered over a hundred cities
    And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections;
    To find his happiness in another kind of wood
    And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
    The words of a dead man
    are modified in the guts of the living.

  • Follow, poet, follow right
    To the bottom of the night,
    With your unconstraining voice
    Still persuade us to rejoice;

    With the farming of a verse
    Make a vineyard of the curse,
    Sing of human unsuccess
    In a rapture of distress;

    In the deserts of the heart
    Let the healing fountains start,
    In the prison of his days
    Teach the free man how to praise.

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