The Poetry Project: W.B. Yeats
poetry project

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. Fuck around and find out.

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April 24, 2016

Poetry Project yeats

I initially wasn’t going to talk about any dead white male poets during this project, but the Poem-A-Day email told me that today was the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion and since one of my all time favorite poems–and one that I discussed in my honors thesis back in the day–is about the Easter Rebellion, I’m making an exception.

W.B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats was a creeper, let’s just get that out of the way from the get-go.  His obsession with Maud Gonne was very much not okay and he needed to knock it off. But he wrote some truly amazing poetry and I find myself returning to it again and again. As one does.

I was going to copy the part of my thesis which pertains to this poem into this blog post, but then I reread it and decided that no one needs to be subjected to what my 20 year old self thought about this. I know I certainly didn’t need to be.

Easter, 1916

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,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious 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.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute to minute they live;
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
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.

And can I just say HOLY SHIT I never noticed until just now that Yeats calls Con Markievicz SHRILL? Seriously? And the less we speak of the poem Yeats wrote about Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth the better.

flames on the side of my face

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