Week 318: The Song Of Wandering Aengus, by W.B.Yeats

This is one of the first poems I ever possessed, or was possessed by, copying it out longhand from some school anthology into my private poetry notebook. I would have been thirteen. Now, over sixty years on, I find its magic not much diminished, just tinged with a wistfulness for that first unrepeatable awakening to poetry, that is bound up for me with the memory of long ago sunsets and running barefoot on summer grass in the wild exuberance of youth.

The Song Of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lads and hilly lands.
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.

W.B.Yeats

Advertisements

Week 281: The Curse of Cromwell, by W.B.Yeats

The Yeatsian rhetoric and Yeatsian rhythms are very seductive, so seductive that it may be some time before one begins to look askance at what is actually being said. This poem is a case in point, expressing the poet’s nostalgia for an unchanging, hierarchical society that comprises an aristocratic elite, a sturdy but deferential peasantry, and a few well-rewarded poets between. ‘His fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified’. Not, you note, the other way round, and one may reflect that it is much easier to be in favour of an unchanging social order when others are doing the serving and you’re the one being served. And yet, whatever my egalitarian reservations, I find the poem compellingly memorable.

The Curse Of Cromwell

You ask what I have found, and far and wide I go:
Nothing but Cromwell’s house and Cromwell’s murderous crew,
The lovers and the dancers are beaten into the clay,
And the tall men and the swordsmen and the horsemen, where are they?
And there is an old beggar wandering in his pride –
His fathers served their fathers before Christ was crucified.
O what of that, O what of that,
What is there left to say?

All neighbourly content and easy talk are gone,
But there’s no good complaining, for money’s rant is on.
He that’s mounting up must on his neighbour mount,
And we and all the Muses are things of no account.
They have schooling of their own, but I pass their schooling by,
What can they know that we know that know the time to die?
O what of that, O what of that,
What is there left to say?

But there’s another knowledge that my heart destroys,
As the fox in the old fable destroyed the Spartan boy’s
Because it proves that things both can and cannot be;
That the swordsmen and the ladies can still keep company,
Can pay the poet for a verse and hear the fiddle sound,
That I am still their servant though all are underground.
O what of that, O what of that,
What is there left to say?

I came on a great house in the middle of the night,
Its open lighted doorway and its windows all alight,
And all my friends were there and made me welcome too;
But I woke in an old ruin that the winds howled through;
And when I pay attention I must out and walk
Among the dogs and horses that understand my talk.
O what of that, O what of that,
What is there left to say?

W.B.Yeats

Week 49: The Folly Of Being Comforted, by W.B.Yeats

As a young man I was a bit disconcerted on meeting Robert Graves to discover that he had no regard at all for W.B.Yeats, either as man or poet. Given my admirations at the time, it was a bit like getting to heaven and finding that Michael couldn’t stand Gabriel. I can see now that Yeats might be a poet from whom one withholds some degree of trust, but I find it impossible to withhold admiration, especially for what seem to be truly heartfelt lyrics like the following…

The Folly Of Being Comforted

One that is ever kind said yesterday:
‘Your well-belovèd’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.

W.B.Yeats