Week 127: From W.B. Yeats to his Friend Maud Gonne, by Jon Stallworthy

I have tended to move in practical rather than literary circles and consequently have spent most of my life among people who regard poetry, if they think about it all, with intense suspicion: ‘Why can’t it say what it means?’. This has sometimes moved me to mild protest: ‘It does say what it means, it’s just that sometimes it means more than it says’. But really it does a poet no harm to be reminded from time to time that there is a world out there with concerns very different from his or her own, and I take wry comfort from the fact that if this poem by Jon Stallworthy is to be believed, I am in august company!

It is probably unnecessary to explain that W.B.Yeats nursed an unrequited passion for the political activist Maud Gonne, and made her the subject of some of his best poems, and that sometimes books used to be issued with their pages uncut, so that if you actually wanted to read them you had to get busy with a knife.

From W.B. Yeats to his Friend Maud Gonne

‘From W.B. Yeats to his friend Maud Gonne’.
The writing modest as the words upon
the title-page. Him I can understand;
picture him turning the pen in his hand
considering what to write: something not cold
nor yet embarrassingly overbold.
But in the gallery where my portraits are
I cannot see the heart that, set ajar
for anarchists and peasants and sick birds,
could not be crowbarred open by such words
as break the heart of time; that fountained out
in tears or laughter at a newsboy’s shout
– only to the poet remaining shut
as these clenched pages that she never cut.

Jon Stallworthy


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