William Butler Yeats

 

 

A Dialogue Of Self And Soul

 

i{My Soul} I summon to the winding ancient stair;

Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,

Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,

Upon the breathless starlit air,

'Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;

Fix every wandering thought upon

That quarter where all thought is done:

Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

i{My Self}. The consecretes blade upon my knees

Is Sato's ancient blade, still as it was,

Still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass

Unspotted by the centuries;

That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn

From some court-lady's dress and round

The wodden scabbard bound and wound

Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

i{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 interllect is wandering

To this and that and t'other thing,

Deliver from the crime of death and birth.

i{My self.} Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it

Five hundred years ago, about it lie

Flowers from I know not what embroidery --

Heart's purple -- and all these I set

For emblems of the day against the tower

Emblematical of the night,

And claim as by a soldier's right

A charter to commit the crime once more.

i{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

i{Is} from the i{Ought,} or i{knower} from the i{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{My Self.} A living man is blind and drinks his drop.

What matter if the ditches are impure?

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?

And what's the good of an escape

If honour find him in the wintry blast?

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.

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.

 

 

SAILING TO BYZANTIUM

 

I

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 unageing intellect.

 

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.

 

III

O sages standing in God's holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

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.

 

IV

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.

 

 

THE TOWER

 

I

WHAT shall I do with this absurdity --

O heart, O troubled heart -- this caricature,

Decrepit age that has been tied to me

As to a dog's tail?

Never had I more

Excited, passionate, fantastical

Imagination, nor an ear and eye

That more expected the impossible --

No, not in boyhood when with rod and fly,

Or the humbler worm, I climbed Ben Bulben's back

And had the livelong summer day to spend.

It seems that I must bid the Muse go pack,

Choose Plato and Plotinus for a friend

Until imagination, ear and eye,

Can be content with argument and deal

In abstract things; or be derided by

A sort of battered kettle at the heel.

 

II

I pace upon the battlements and stare

On the foundations of a house, or where

Tree, like a sooty finger, starts from the earth;

And send imagination forth

Under the day's declining beam, and call

Images and memories

From ruin or from ancient trees,

For I would ask a question of them all.

 

Beyond that ridge lived Mrs.  French, and once

When every silver candlestick or sconce

Lit up the dark mahogany and the wine.

A serving-man, that could divine

That most respected lady's every wish,

Ran and with the garden shears

Clipped an insolent farmer's ears

And brought them in a little covered dish.

 

Some few remembered still when I was young

A peasant girl commended by a Song,

Who'd lived somewhere upon that rocky place,

And praised the colour of her face,

And had the greater joy in praising her,

Remembering that, if walked she there,

Farmers jostled at the fair

So great a glory did the song confer.

 

And certain men, being maddened by those rhymes,

Or else by toasting her a score of times,

Rose from the table and declared it right

To test their fancy by their sight;

But they mistook the brightness of the moon

For the prosaic light of day --

Music had driven their wits astray --

And one was drowned in the great bog of Cloone.

 

Strange, but the man who made the song was blind;

Yet, now I have considered it, I find

That nothing strange; the tragedy began

With Homer that was a blind man,

And Helen has all living hearts betrayed.

O may the moon and sunlight seem

One inextricable beam,

For if I triumph I must make men mad.

 

And I myself created Hanrahan

And drove him drunk or sober through the dawn

From somewhere in the neighbouring cottages.

Caught by an old man's juggleries

He stumbled, tumbled, fumbled to and fro

And had but broken knees for hire

And horrible splendour of desire;

I thought it all out twenty years ago:

 

Good fellows shuffled cards in an old bawn;

And when that ancient ruffian's turn was on

He so bewitched the cards under his thumb

That all but the one card became

A pack of hounds and not a pack of cards,

And that he changed into a hare.

Hanrahan rose in frenzy there

And followed up those baying creatures towards --

 

O towards I have forgotten what -- enough!

I must recall a man that neither love

Nor music nor an enemy's clipped ear

Could, he was so harried, cheer;

A figure that has grown so fabulous

There's not a neighbour left to say

When he finished his dog's day:

An ancient bankrupt master of this house.

 

Before that ruin came, for centuries,

Rough men-at-arms, cross-gartered to the knees

Or shod in iron, climbed the narrow stairs,

And certain men-at-arms there were

Whose images, in the Great Memory stored,

Come with loud cry and panting breast

To break upon a sleeper's rest

While their great wooden dice beat on the board.

 

As I would question all, come all who can;

Come old, necessitous.  half-mounted man;

And bring beauty's blind rambling celebrant;

The red man the juggler sent

Through God-forsaken meadows; Mrs. French,

Gifted with so fine an ear;

The man drowned in a bog's mire,

When mocking Muses chose the country wench.

 

Did all old men and women, rich and poor,

Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,

Whether in public or in secret rage

As I do now against old age?

But I have found an answer in those eyes

That are impatient to be gone;

Go therefore; but leave Hanrahan,

For I need all his mighty memories.

 

Old lecher with a love on every wind,

Bring up out of that deep considering mind

All that you have discovered in the grave,

For it is certain that you have

Reckoned up every unforeknown, unseeing

plunge, lured by a softening eye,

Or by a touch or a sigh,

Into the labyrinth of another's being;

 

Does the imagination dwell the most

Upon a woman won or woman lost.?

If on the lost, admit you turned aside

From a great labyrinth out of pride,

Cowardice, some silly over-subtle thought

Or anything called conscience once;

And that if memory recur, the sun's

Under eclipse and the day blotted out.

 

III

It is time that I wrote my will;

I choose upstanding men

That climb the streams until

The fountain leap, and at dawn

Drop their cast at the side

Of dripping stone; I declare

They shall inherit my pride,

The pride of people that were

Bound neither to Cause nor to State.

Neither to slaves that were spat on,

Nor to the tyrants that spat,

The people of Burke and of Grattan

That gave, though free to refuse --

pride, like that of the morn,

When the headlong light is loose,

Or that of the fabulous horn,

Or that of the sudden shower

When all streams are dry,

Or that of the hour

When the swan must fix his eye

Upon a fading gleam,

Float out upon a long

Last reach of glittering stream

And there sing his last song.

And I declare my faith:

I mock Plotinus' thought

And cry in Plato's teeth,

Death and life were not

Till man made up the whole,

Made lock, stock and barrel

Out of his bitter soul,

Aye, sun and moon and star, all,

And further add to that

That, being dead, we rise,

Dream and so create

Translunar paradise.

 

I have prepared my peace

With learned Italian things

And the proud stones of Greece,

Poet's imaginings

And memories of love,

Memories of the words of women,

All those things whereof

Man makes a superhuman,

Mirror-resembling dream.

 

As at the loophole there

The daws chatter and scream,

And drop twigs layer upon layer.

When they have mounted up,

The mother bird will rest

On their hollow top,

And so warm her wild nest.

 

I leave both faith and pride

To young upstanding men

Climbing the mountain-side,

That under bursting dawn

They may drop a fly;

Being of that metal made

Till it was broken by

This sedentary trade.

 

Now shall I make my soul,

Compelling it to study

In a learned school

Till the wreck of body,

Slow decay of blood,

Testy delirium

Or dull decrepitude,

Or what worse evil come --

The death of friends, or death

Of every brilliant eye

That made a catch in the breath -- .

Seem but the clouds of the sky

When the horizon fades;

Or a bird's sleepy cry

Among the deepening shades.

 

 

The Winding Stair

 

My Soul. I summon to the winding ancient stair;

Set all your mind upon the steep ascent,

Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,

Upon the breathless starlit air,

'Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;

Fix every wandering thought upon

That quarter where all thought is done:

Who can distinguish darkness from the soul

 

My Self. The consecretes blade upon my knees

Is Sato's ancient blade, still as it was,

Still razor-keen, still like a looking-glass

Unspotted by the centuries;

That flowering, silken, old embroidery, torn

From some court-lady's dress and round

The wodden scabbard bound and wound

Can, tattered, still protect, faded adorn

 

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.

 

My Self. Montashigi, third of his family, fashioned it

Five hundred years ago, about it lie

Flowers from I know not what embroidery -

Heart's purple - and all these I set

For emblems of the day against the tower

Emblematical of the night,

And claim as by a soldier's right

A charter to commit the crime once more.

 

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.

 

II

 

My Self. A living man is blind and drinks his drop.

What matter if the ditches are impure?

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?

And what's the good of an escape

If honour find him in the wintry blast?

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

BYZANTIUM

 

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.

 

Before me floats an image, man or shade,

Shade more than man, more image than a shade;

For Hades' bobbin bound in mummy-cloth

May unwind the winding path;

A mouth that has no moisture and no breath

Breathless mouths may summon;

I hail the superhuman;

I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

 

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,

More miracle than bird or handiwork,

Planted on the star-lit golden bough,

Can like the cocks of Hades crow,

Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud

In glory of changeless metal

Common bird or petal

And all complexities of mire or blood.

 

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.

 

Astraddle on the dolphin's mire and blood,

Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.

The golden smithies of the Emperor!

Marbles of the dancing floor

Break bitter furies of complexity,

Those images that yet

Fresh images beget,

That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.


The Second Coming


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?

The Cold Heaven



Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven
That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice,
And thereupon imagination and heart were driven
So wild that every casual thought of that and this
Vanished, and left but memories, that should be out of season
With the hot blood of youth, of love crossed long ago;
And I took all the blame out of all sense and reason,
Until I cried and trembled and rocked to and fro,
Riddled with light. Ah! when the ghost begins to quicken,
Confusion of the death-bed over, is it sent
Out naked on the roads, as the books say, and stricken
By the injustice of the skies for punishment?

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