This may seem a strange little poem, though memorable by virtue of being suffused with the inimitable Yeats music. What’s all this about making a hole in the collar-bone of a hare? I believe that here Yeats is using, or adapting, a folktale motif: there are old Highland stories in which finding a stone with a hole in it and looking through it grants the finder the ability to pierce any disguise and see things as they truly are. And I think the poem is inspired by Yeats’s longing for an older, different order of things, for the Ireland of legend or, as he puts in his preface to Lady Gregory’s ‘Cuchulain of Muirthemne’, for ‘that Cruachan of the enchantments that lay behind those long, blue, ragged hills’.
The Collar-bone of a Hare
Would I could cast a sail on the water
Where many a king has gone
And many a king’s daughter,
And alight at the comely trees and the lawn,
The playing upon pipes and the dancing,
And learn that the best thing is
To change my loves while dancing
And pay but a kiss for a kiss.
I would find by the edge of that water
The collar-bone of a hare
Worn thin by the lapping of water,
And pierce it through with a gimlet and stare
At the old bitter world where they marry in churches,
And laugh over the untroubled water
At all who marry in churches,
Through the white thin bone of a hare.