One of the greatest poets of any century, the Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) drew upon Irish folklore and myth as inspiration for much of his early poetry. Mythic themes as well as many other topics are masterfully explored in this rich selection of 134 lyrics chiefly selected from six volumes of verse published between 1889 and 1914. Among the poems included are "The Stolen Child" and "Down by the Salley Gardens" (Crossways, 1889); "To the Rose upon the Rood of Time," "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," "When You Are Old," and "To Ireland in the Coming Times" (The Rose, 1893); "The Song of Wandering Aengus" and "A Poet to His Beloved" (The Wind Among the Reeds, 1899); "The Song of Red Hanrahan" (In the Seven Woods, 1903); "No Second Troy" and "The Fascination of What's Difficult" (The Green Helmet and Other Poems, 1910); "To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing" and "To a Shade" (Responsibilities, 1914); and many more. This representative selection offers readers a splendid sampling of the distinctive Yeatsian voice — romantic, yearning, full of the magic and mysticism Yeats imbibed as a boy in the West of Ireland, later counterbalanced by an anguished realism grounded in the poet's nationalistic and political sympathies.
Read an Excerpt
By William Butler Yeats, Shane Weller
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks." WILLIAM BLAKE.
To A. E.
The Song of the Happy Shepherd
The woods of Arcady are dead,
And over is their antique joy;
Of old the world on dreaming fed;
Gray Truth is now her painted toy;
Yet still she turns her restless head:
But O, sick children of the world,
Of all the many changing things
In dreary dancing past us whirled,
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings,
Words alone are certain good.
Where are now the warring kings,
Word be-mockers?—By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings?
An idle word is now their glory,
By the stammering schoolboy said,
Reading some entangled story:
The kings of the old time are fled.
The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.
Then nowise worship dusty deeds,
Nor seek; for this is also sooth;
To hunger fiercely after truth,
Lest all thy toiling only breeds
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then,
No learning from the starry men,
Who follow with the optic glass
The whirling ways of stars that pass—
Seek, then, for this is also sooth,
No word of theirs—the cold star-bane
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain,
And dead is all their human truth.
Go gather by the humming-sea
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell,
And they thy comforters will be,
Rewarding in melodious guile,
Thy fretful words a little while,
Till they shall singing fade in ruth,
And die a pearly brotherhood;
For words alone are certain good:
Sing, then, for this is also sooth.
I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave,
And I would please the hapless faun,
Buried under the sleepy ground,
With mirthful songs before the dawn.
His shouting days with mirth were crowned;
And still I dream he treads the lawn,
Walking ghostly in the dew,
Pierced by my glad singing through,
My songs of old earth's dreamy youth:
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou!
For fair are poppies on the brow:
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.
The Sad Shepherd
There was a man whom Sorrow named his friend,
And he, of his high comrade Sorrow dreaming,
Went walking with slow steps along the gleaming
And humming sands, where windy surges wend:
And he called loudly to the stars to bend
From their pale thrones and comfort him, but they
Among themselves laugh on and sing alway:
And then the man whom Sorrow named his friend
Cried out, Dim sea, hear my most piteous story!
The sea swept on and cried her old cry still,
Rolling along in dreams from hill to hill;
He fled the persecution of her glory
And, in a far-off, gentle valley stopping,
Cried all his story to the dewdrops glistening,
But naught they heard, for they are always listening,
The dewdrops, for the sound of their own dropping.
And then the man whom Sorrow named his friend,
Sought once again the shore, and found a shell,
And thought, I will my heavy story tell
Till my own words, re-echoing, shall send
Their sadness through a hollow, pearly heart;
And my own tale again for me shall sing,
And my own whispering words be comforting,
And lo! my ancient burden may depart.
Then he sang softly nigh the pearly rim;
But the sad dweller by the sea-ways lone
Changed all he sang to inarticulate moan
Among her wildering whirls, forgetting him.
The Cloak, the Boat, and the Shoes
"What do you make so fair and bright?"
"I make the cloak of Sorrow:
"O, lovely to see in all men's sight
"Shall be the cloak of Sorrow,
"In all men's sight."
"What do you build with sails for flight?"
"I build a boat for Sorrow,
"O, swift on the seas all day and night
"Saileth the rover Sorrow,
"All day and night."
"What do you weave with wool so white?"
"I weave the shoes of Sorrow,
"Soundless shall be the footfall light
"In all men's ears of Sorrow,
"Sudden and light."
Anashuya and Vijaya
A little Indian temple in the Golden Age. Around it a garden; around that the forest. ANASHUYA, the young priestess, kneeling within the temple.
Send peace on all the lands and flickering corn.—
O, may tranquillity walk by his elbow
When wandering in the forest, if he love
No other.—Hear, and may the indolent flocks
Be plentiful.—And if he love another,
May panthers end him.—Hear, and load our king
With wisdom hour by hour.—May we two stand,
When we are dead, beyond the setting suns,
A little from the other shades apart,
With mingling hair, and play upon one lute.
VIJAYA [entering and throwing a lily at her]
Hail! hail, my Anashuya.
No: be still.
I, priestess of this temple, offer up
Prayers for the land.
I will wait here, Amrita.
By mighty Brahma's ever rustling robe,
Who is Amrita? Sorrow of all sorrows!
Another fills your mind.
My mother's name.
ANASHUYA [sings, coming out of the temple]
A sad, sad thought went by me slowly:
Sigh, O you little stars! O, sigh and shake your blue apparel!
The sad, sad thought has gone from me now wholly:
Sing, O you little stars! O, sing and raise your rapturous carol
To mighty Brahma, he who made you many as the sands,
And laid you on the gates of evening with his quiet hands.
[Sits down on the steps of the temple.]
Vijaya, I have brought my evening rice;
The sun has laid his chin on the gray wood,
Weary, with all his poppies gathered round him.
The hour when Kama, 2 full of sleepy laughter,
Rises, and showers abroad his fragrant arrows,
Piercing the twilight with their murmuring barbs.
See how the sacred old flamingoes come,
Painting with shadow all the marble steps:
Aged and wise, they seek their wonted perches
Within the temple, devious walking, made
To wander by their melancholy minds.
Yon tall one eyes my supper; swiftly chase him
Far, far away. I named him after you.
He is a famous fisher; hour by hour
He ruffles with his bill the minnowed streams.
Ah! there he snaps my rice. I told you so.
Now cuff him off. He's off! A kiss for you,
Because you saved my rice. Have you no thanks?
Sing you of her, O first few stars,
Whom Brahma, touching with his finger, praises, for you hold
The van of wandering quiet; ere you be too calm and old,
Sing, turning in your cars,
Sing, till you raise your hands and sigh, and from your car heads peer,
With all your whirling hair, and drop many an azure tear.
What know the pilots of the stars of tears?
Their faces are all worn, and in their eyes
Flashes the fire of sadness, for they see
The icicles that famish all the north,
Where men lie frozen in the glimmering snow;
And in the flaming forests cower the lion
And lioness, with all their whimpering cubs;
And, ever pacing on the verge of things,
The phantom, Beauty, in a mist of tears;
While we alone have round us woven woods,
And feel the softness of each other's hand,
ANASHUYA [going away from him]
Ah me, you love another,
[Bursting into tears.]
And may some dreadful ill befall her quick!
I loved another; now I love no other.
Among the mouldering of ancient woods
You live, and on the village border she,
With her old father the blind wood-cutter;
I saw her standing in her door but now.
Vijaya, swear to love her never more.
Swear by the parents of the gods,
Dread oath, who dwell on sacred Himalay,
On the far Golden Peak; enormous shapes,
Who still were old when the great sea was young;
On their vast faces mystery and dreams;
Their hair along the mountains rolled and filled
From year to year by the unnumbered nests
Of aweless birds, and round their stirless feet
The joyous flocks of deer and antelope,
Who never hear the unforgiving hound.
By the parents of the gods, I swear.
I have forgiven, O new star!
Maybe you have not heard of us, you have come forth so newly,
You hunter of the fields afar!
Ah, you will know my loved one by his hunter's arrows truly,
Shoot on him shafts of quietness, that he may ever keep
An inner laughter, and may kiss his hands to me in sleep.
Farewell, Vijaya. Nay, no word, no word;
I, priestess of this temple, offer up
Prayers for the land.
O Brahma, guard in sleep
The merry lambs and the complacent kine,
The flies below the leaves, and the young mice
In the tree roots, and all the sacred flocks
Of red flamingo; and my love, Vijaya;
And may no restless fay with fidget finger
Trouble his sleeping: give him dreams of me.
The Indian upon God
I passed along the water's edge below the humid trees,
My spirit rocked in evening light, the rushes round my knees,
My spirit rocked in sleep and sighs; and saw the moorfowl pace
All dripping on a grassy slope, and saw them cease to chase
Each other round in circles, and heard the eldest speak:
Who holds the world between His bill and made us strong or weak
Is an undying moorfowl, and He lives beyond the sky.
The rains are from His dripping wing, the moonbeams from His eye.
I passed a little further on and heard a lotus talk:
Who made the world and ruleth it, He hangeth on a stalk,
For I am in His image made, and all this tinkling tide
Is but a sliding drop of rain between His petals wide.
A little way within the gloom a roebuck raised his eyes
Brimful of starlight, and he said: The Stamper of the Skies,
He is a gentle roebuck; for how else, I pray, could He
Conceive a thing so sad and soft, a gentle thing like me?
I passed a little further on and heard a peacock say:
Who made the grass and made the worms and made my feathers gay,
He is a monstrous peacock, and He waveth all the night
His languid tail above us, lit with myriad spots of light.
The Indian to His Love
The island dreams under the dawn
And great boughs drop tranquillity;
The peahens dance on a smooth lawn,
A parrot sways upon a tree,
Raging at his own image in the enamelled sea.
Here we will moor our lonely ship
And wander ever with woven hands,
Murmuring softly lip to lip,
Along the grass, along the sands,
Murmuring how far away are the unquiet lands:
How we alone of mortals are
Hid under quiet bows apart,
While our love grows an Indian star,
A meteor of the burning heart,
One with the tide that gleams, the wings that gleam and dart,
The heavy boughs, the burnished dove
That moans and sighs a hundred days:
How when we die our shades will rove,
When eve has hushed the feathered ways,
With vapoury footsole among the waters drowsy blaze.
The Falling of the Leaves
Autumn is over the long leaves that love us,
And over the mice in the barley sheaves;
Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us,
And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.
The hour of the waning of love has beset us,
And weary and worn are our sad souls now;
Let us part, ere the season of passion forget us,
With a kiss and a tear on thy drooping brow.
Excerpted from Early Poems by William Butler Yeats, Shane Weller. Copyright © 1993 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) drew upon Irish folklore and myth as inspiration for much of his early poetry. Mythic themes as well as many other topics are masterfully explored in this rich selection of 134 lyrics chiefly selected from six volumes of verse published between 1889 and 1914.
Among the poems included are "The Stolen Child" and "Down by the Salley Gardens" (Crossways, 1889); "To the Rose upon the Rood of Time," "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," "When You Are Old," and "To Ireland in the Coming Times" (The Rose, 1893); "The Song of Red Hanrahan" (In the Seven Woods, 1903); and many more. This representative selection offers readers a splendid sampling of the distinctive Yeatsian voice—romantic, yearning, full of the magic and mysticism Yeats imbibed as a boy in the West of Ireland, later counterbalanced by an anguished realism grounded in the poet's nationalistic and political sympathies.