The First Yeats: Poems by W. B. Yeats, 1889-1899

The First Yeats: Poems by W. B. Yeats, 1889-1899


View All Available Formats & Editions


This landmark edition makes many of Yeats's early poems available to readers for the first time, along with many of his own notes about Irish mythology and folklore. Though he is best known for his later, more political poems, such as Easter 1916, he began his career as a student of Blake, Shelley, and the pre-Raphaelites. Many of the poems included here have been previously overlooked or unpublished—including many original versions of poems that became very well known after Yeats revised them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857549959
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 05/01/2010
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

William Butler Yeats was one of the greatest poets and dramatists of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923. Edward Larrissy is a professor of poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast, where he plays an active role in the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry. He has published widely on poetry, especially on the work of Yeats. He is the author of Yeats the Poet: The Measures of Difference and the editor of W. B. Yeats, The Major Works.

Read an Excerpt

The First Yeats

Poems by W.B. Yeats, 1889-1899

By Edward Larrissy

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2010 Edward Larrissy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-843-7


    The Wanderings of Oisin and
    How a Demon Trapped Him

        Part I
    The Island of the Living


    Oisin, tell me the famous story
    Why thou outlivest, blind and hoary,
    The bad old days. Thou wert, men sing,
    Trapped of an amorous demon thing.


    'Tis sad remembering, sick with years,
    The swift innumerable spears,
    The long-haired warriors, the spread feast;
    And love, in the hours when youth has ceased:
    Yet will I make all plain for thee.
    We rode in sorrow, with strong hounds three,
    Bran, Sgeolan, and Lomair,
    On a morning misty and mild and fair.
    The mist-drops hung on the fragrant trees,
    And in the blossoms hung the bees.
    We rode in sadness above Lough Laen,
    For our best were dead on Gavra's green.
    The stag we chased was not more sad,
    And yet, of yore, much peace he had
    In his own leafy forest house,
    Sleek as any granary mouse
    Among the fields of waving fern.
    We thought on Oscar's pencilled urn.
    Than the hornless deer we chased that morn,
    A swifter creature never was born,
    And Bran, Sgeolan, and Lomair
    Were lolling their tongues, and the silken hair
    Of our strong steeds was dark with sweat,
    When ambling down the vale we met
    A maiden, on a slender steed,
    Whose careful pastern pressed the sod
    As though he held an earthly mead
    Scarce worthy of a hoof gold-shod.
    For gold his hooves and silk his rein,
    And 'tween his ears, above his mane,
    A golden crescent lit the plain,
    And pearly white his well-groomed hair.
    His mistress was more mild and fair
    Than doves that moaned round Eman's hall
    Among the leaves of the laurel wall,
    And feared always the bow-string's twanging.
    Her eyes were soft as dewdrops hanging
    Upon the grass-blades' bending tips,
    And like a sunset were her lips,
    A stormy sunset o'er doomed ships.
    Her hair was of a citron tincture,
    And gathered in a silver cincture;
    Down to her feet white vesture flowed
    And with the woven crimson glowed
    Of many a figured creature strange,
    And birds that on the seven seas range.
    For brooch 'twas bound with a bright sea-shell,
    And wavered like a summer rill,
    As her soft bosom rose and fell.


    Oisin, thou art half heathen still!


    'Why, as ye ride, droops low each head?
    Why do ye sound no horn?' she said.
    'For hunting heroes should be glad.
    The stag ye chase is not more sad,
    And yet, of yore, much peace he had,
    Sleek as any granary mouse,
    In his own leafy forest house,
    Among the waving fields of fern.'
    'We think on Oscar's pencilled urn,
    And those on Gavra lying low,
    Where round and round the ravens go.
    Now, pleasant maiden, tell to me
    Thy name, thy kin, and thy country,'
    Cried Fin; and cried she, 'Men of fame,
    My home is far from where the tide
    Washes the shores where ye abide,
    Ye worn deed-doers, and my name
    Is Niam, daughter of the King
    Of the Young.'
        'Young maiden, what may bring
    Thy wandering steps across the sea?
    Is thy companion gone from thee?'
    Clear fluted then that goblin rare –
    'Not so, great king; for I have ne'er
    Been spoken of with any man.
    For love of Oisin my feet ran
    Across the glossy sea.'
            'Oh, wild
    Young princess, why wert thou beguiled
    Of Oisin, the young man, my son?
    Of princes there is many a one.'
    'Good reason have I for my love,'
    She said; 'for he is fair above
    All men, and stronger of his hands,
    And drops of honey are his words,
    And glorious as Asian birds
    At evening in their rainless lands.
    Full many bowing kings besought me,
    And many princes of high name.
    I ne'er loved any till song brought me
    To peak and pine o'er Oisin's fame.'
    There was, oh Patrick, by thy head,
    No limb of me that was not fallen
    In love. I cried, 'Thee will I wed,
    Young Niam, and thou shalt be callen
    Beloved in a thousand songs.
    Before thy feet shall kneel down all
    My captives, bound in leathern thongs,
    And praise thee in my western hall.'
    'Oisin, thou must away with me
    To my own kingdom in the sea –
    Away, away with me,' she cried,
    'To shores by the wash of the tremulous tide,
    Where the voice of change is the voice of a tune,
    In the poppy-hung house of the twilight fluted;
    To shores where dying has never been known,
    And the flushes of first love never have flown;
    And a hundred steeds, tumultuous-footed,
    There shalt thou have, and a hundred hounds
    That spring five paces in their bounds,
    No mightier creatures bay at the moon;
    And a hundred robes of the softest silk,
    And a hundred calves, and a hundred sheep
    Whose long wool whiter than sea-froth flows;
    And a hundred swords and a hundred bows;
    And honey, and oil, and wine, and milk,
    And always never-anxious sleep;
    And a hundred maidens wise and young,
    And sweeter of voice than the pleasant birds,
    And swifter than the salmon herds;
    And a hundred youths, whose limbs are strung
    In a vigour more than mortal measure,
    And floating-haired and proud in strife;
    And thou shalt know the immortals' leisure,
    And I be with thee as thy wife.'

    We rode beyond the furze and heather,
    And stood beside the sea together;
    Then sighed she softly, 'Late! 'tis late!
    Mount my white steed, for the fairy state
    Lies far.' I mounted, and she bound me
    In triumph with her arms around me,
    And, whispering to herself, enwound me;
    And when the white steed felt my weight,
    He shook himself for travelling,
    And neighed three times.
            When, wondering
    Near by, the Fenians saw, and knew
    That I would go with her, they grew
    Mournful, and gathered on the sands;
    They wept, and raised lamenting hands.
    When I had stooped and tenderly
    Had kissed my father, long-armed Fin,
    And the Fenians all had wept with me,
    We rode across the oily sea,
    For the sparkling hooves they sank not in;
    And far behind us, slowly round
    The Fenians on the human ground
    Closed in the misty air profound.
    In what far kingdom do ye go,
    Ah, Fenians, with the shield and bow?
    Or are ye phantoms white as snow,
    Whose lips had life's most prosperous glow,
    Oh ye with whom, in sloping valleys
    And down the dewy forest alleys,
    I chased with hounds the flying deer,
    With whom I hurled the hurrying spear,
    And heard the foeman's bucklers rattle,
    And broke the heaving ranks of battle?
    And, Bran, Sgeolan, and Lomair,
    Where are ye with your long rough hair?
    Ye go not where the red deer feeds,
    Nor tear the foemen from their steeds.


    Bard Oisin, boast not of thy deeds
    Nor thy companions. Let them rest,
    The Fenians. Let their deer-hounds sleep.
    Tell on, nor bow thy heathen crest
    In brooding memory, nor weep.


    On, on, we galloped o'er the sea.
    I knew not if days passed or hours,
    For fairy songs continually
    Sang Niam, and their dewy showers
    Of pensive laughter – unhuman sound –
    Lulled weariness; and closely round
    My human sadness fay arms wound.
    On, on! and now a hornless deer
    Passed by us, chased of a phantom hound
    All pearly white, save one red ear;
    And now a maid, on a swift brown steed
    Whose hooves the tops of the surges grazed,
    Hurried away, and over her raised
    An apple of gold in her tossing hand;
    And following her at a headlong speed
    Was a beautiful youth from an unknown land.
    'Who are the riding ones?' I said.
    'Fret not with speech the phantoms dread,'
    Said Niam, as she laid the tip
    Of one long finger on my lip.
    Now in the sea the sun's rim sank,
    The clouds arrayed them rank on rank
    In silence round his crimson ball.
    The floor of Eman's dancing hall
    Was not more level than the sea,
    As, full of loving phantasy,
    We rode on murmuring. Many a shell
    That in immortal silence sleeps
    And dreams of her own melting hues,
    Her golds, her azures, and her blues,
    Pierced with soft light the shallowing deeps,
    When round us suddenly there came
    A far vague sound of feathery choirs.
    It seemed to fall from the very flame
    Of the great round sun, from his central fires.
    The steed towards the music raced,
    Neighing along the lifeless waste;
    And, as the sun sank ever lower,
    Like sooty fingers many a tree
    Rose ever from the sea's warm floor,
    And they were trembling ceaselessly,
    As though they all were beating time
    Upon the centre of the sun
    To the music of the golden rhyme
    Sung of the birds. Our toil was done;
    We cantered to the shore, and knew
    The reason of the trembling trees,
    For round each branch the song-birds flew,
    Or clung as close as swarms of bees,
    While round the shore a million stood
    Like drops of frozen rainbow light,
    And pondered in a soft vain mood
    On their own selves in the waters white,
    And murmured snatches of delight;
    And on the shores were many boats
    With bending sterns and bending bows,
    And carven figures on their prows
    Of bitterns and fish-eating stoats,
    And swans with their exultant throats.
    Among them 'lighting from our steed,
    Maid Niam from a little trump
    Blew one long note. From over reed
    And river, fern and flowery clump,
    Ere long an answering whisper flew,
    A whisper of impetuous feet
    Among the woodland grasses sweet,
    And ever nearer, nearer grew;
    And from the woods there rushed a band
    Of youths and maidens hand in hand,
    And singing, singing all together.
    Their brows were white as fragrant milk,
    Their robes were all of yellow silk,
    Trimmed round with many a crimson feather;
    And when they saw my earthly dress,
    They fingered it and gazed at me,
    And laughed like murmurs of the sea.
    But Niam, with a sad distress,
    Bid them away and hold their peace;
    And when they heard her voice, they ran
    And knelt them, every maid and man,
    And kissed, as they would never cease,
    Her fingers and her garments' hem.
    Now in the woods, away with them
    Went we to find their prince's hall –
    On in the woods, away with them,
    Where white dewdrops in millions fall;
    On in the woods, away with them,
    Where tangling creepers every hour
    Blossom in some new crimson flower;
    On in the woods, away with them,
    Where trees made sudden cavern-glooms
    By roots that joined above our plumes –
    On in the woods, away with them!
    And once a sudden laughter sprang
    From all their lips, and once they sang
    Together, while the dark woods rang,
    And rose from all their distant parts,
    From bees among their honey marts,
    A rumour of delighted hearts.
    And while they sang, a singer laid
    A harp of silver in my hands,
    And bade me sing of earthly lands;
    And when I sang of human joy
    They hushed them, every man and maid.
    Oh, Patrick, by thy beard, they wept,
    And one came close, a tearful boy.
    'A sadder creature never stept
    Than this strange bard,' he cried, and caught
    The harp away. A dolorous pool
    Lay 'neath us; of its hollow cool
    No creature had familiar thought
    Save deer towards noon that water sought.
    Therein the silver harp he hurled,
    And each one said, with a long, long sigh,
    'The saddest harp in all the world!'

    And now still sad our troop drew nigh
    A firwood house, all covered over
    With antlers and the shaggy skin
    Of many a slaughtered forest rover.
    We passed the portals, and within,
    One hand beneath his beardless chin,
    There was a wondrous young man sitting.
    Within his other hand were flitting
    Around a sceptre of all lights,
    Wild flames of red and creamy whites,
    Wild flames of red and gold and blue;
    And nigh unto him each one drew,
    And kissed the sceptre with hot lips,
    And touched it with his finger-tips.

    With a clear voice the young man cried,
    "Tis joy makes swim the sappy tide,
    And "Waken, courtiers of the morn!"
    Cries to the sluggard seeds of corn,
    And stirs the young kid's budding horn,
    And makes the infant ferns unwrap,
    And for the peewit paints his cap.
    For joy the little planets run
    Round us, and rolls the unwieldy sun.
    If joy were nowhere on the earth
    There were an end of change and birth;
    The universe herself would die,
    And in some urn funereal lie
    Folded like a frozen fly.

    'The soul is a drop of joy afar.
    In other years from some old star
    It fell, or from the twisted moon
    Dripped on the earth; but soon, ah! soon,
    To all things cried, "I am a slave!
    Trickling along the earth, I rave;
    In pinching ways I toil and turn."
    But, warrior, here there is no law;
    The soul is free, and finds no flaw,
    Nor sorrow with her osprey claw.
    Then, warrior, why so sad and stern,
    For joy is God and God is joy?'
    Among the ringing halls a shout
    Arose from every maid and boy,
    And through the doors, a rustling rout,
    Swept on the dance's linkèd flow,
    In every brain a wizard glow.
    Beside the sea, where, hushed and slow,
    The murmuring birds in solemn pomp
    Passed a-tiptoe up and down
    In a long and shadowy row,
    We hushed the singing and the romp,
    And, gathering on our brows a frown,
    Whispered to the sea whose flow
    Eat away the sloping sod,
    'God is joy and joy is God.
    Everything that's sad is wicked –
    Everything that fears to-morrow
    Or the wild grey osprey sorrow.'

    Then onward in the winding thicket
    We danced to where within the gloom
    Hung, like meteors of red light,
    Damask roses in the night,
    And sang we lightly to each bloom
    As we kissed each rose's head;
    Sang we softly in the dance,
    With a swift and friendly glance –
    Sang we softly, 'On the dead,
    Fall the leaves of other roses,
    On the dead the earth encloses.
    Never, never on our graves,
    Heaved beside the glimmering waves,
    Shall fall the leaves of damask roses;
    For change and death they come not near us,
    And all listless hours fear us,
    And we never fear the morrow
    Or the wild grey osprey sorrow.'

    Then on among the windless woods,
    The ever summered solitudes,
    The many-coloured dancers rushed,
    Till on the central hill we hushed
    Once more the dance's linkèd flow,
    And, gathered in a panting band,
    Flung on high each waving hand,
    And sang unto the starry broods.
    In our raised eyes there flashed a glow
    Of milky brightness to and fro,
    As thus our song arose: 'Ye stars,
    Across your wandering ruby cars
    Shake the loose reins! Ye slaves of God,
    He rules you with an iron rod,
    He holds you with an iron bond,
    Each one woven to the other,
    Each one woven to his brother,
    Like bubbles in a frozen pond.
    But we, oh rolling stars, are free.
    The ever-winding wakeful sea,
    That hides us from all human spying,
    Is not so free, so free, so free.
    Our hands have known no wearying tool,
    Our lives have known no law nor rule;
    Afar from where the years are flying
    O'er men who sleep, and wake, and die,
    And peak and pine we know not why,
    We only know that we were glad
    Aforetime, and shall not grow sad
    Or tired on any dawning morrow,
    Nor ever change or feel the clutches
    Of grievous Time on his old crutches,
    Or fear the wild grey osprey sorrow.'


Excerpted from The First Yeats by Edward Larrissy. Copyright © 2010 Edward Larrissy. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
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

Introduction ix

A Note on the Text xviii

Bibliography xx

The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889)

The Wanderings of Oisin 3

Time and the Witch Vivien 36

The Stolen Child 39

Girl's Song 40

Ephemera 41

An Indian Song 42

Kanva, the Indian, on God 43

Kanva on Himself 44

Jealousy 45

Song of the Last Arcadian 48

King Goll 50

The Meditation of the Old Fisherman 52

The Ballad of Moll Magee 53

The Phantom Ship 55

A Lover's Quarrel among the Fairies 56

Mosada 58

How Ferencz Renyi Kept Silent 69

The Fairy Doctor 73

Falling of the Leaves 74

Miserrimus 74

The Priest and the Fairy 75

The Fairy Pedant 79

She who Dwelt among the Sycamores 80

On Mr Nettleship's Picture at the Royal Hibernian Academy 81

A Legend 82

An Old Song Re-sung 83

Street Dancers 84

To an Isle in the Water 86

Quatrains and Aphorisms 86

The Seeker 88

Island of Statues 91

Legends and Lyrics (1892)

To the Rose upon the Rood of Time 105

Fergus and the Druid 106

The Rose of the World 108

The Peace of the Rose 108

The Death of Cuchullin 109

The White Birds 112

Father Gilligan 113

Father O'Hart 115

When You Are Old 116

The Sorrow of Love 117

The Ballad of the Old Foxhunter 117

A Fairy Song 119

The Pity of Love 120

The Lake Isle of Innisfree 120

A Cradle Song ('The angels are bending') 121

The Man who Dreamed of Fairyland 121

Dedication of'Irish Tales' 123

The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner 124

When You Are Sad 124

The Two Trees 125

They Went Forth to the Battle, But They Always Fell 127

An Epitaph 128

Apologia Addressed to Ireland in the Coming Days 128

Yeats's Notes 130

The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

The Hosting of the Sidhe 133

The Everlasting Voices 133

The Moods 134

Aedh Tells of the Rose in his Heart 134

The Host of the Air 135

Breasal the Fisherman 136

A Cradle Song ('The Danann children laugh… 137

Into the Twilight 137

The Song of Wandering Aengus 138

The Song of the old Mother 139

The Fiddler of Dooney 139

The Heart of the Woman 140

Aedh Laments the Loss of Love 140

Mongan Laments the Change that has Come upon him and his Beloved 141

Michael Robartes Bids his Beloved Be at Peace 141

Hanrahan Reproves the Curlew 142

Michael Robartes Remembers Forgotten Beauty 142

A Poet to his Beloved 143

Aedh Gives his Beloved Certain Rhymes 143

To My Heart, Bidding it Have No Fear 144

The Cap and Bells 144

The Valley of the Black Pig 145

Michael Robartes Asks Forgiveness Because of his Many Moods 146

Aedh Tells of a Valley Full of Lovers 147

Aedh Tells of the Perfect Beauty 147

Aedh Hears the Cry of the Sedge 148

Aedh Thinks of Those who have Spoken Evil of his Beloved 148

The Blessed 149

The Secret Rose 150

Hanrahan Laments because of his Wanderings 151

The Travail of Passion 152

The Poet Pleads with his Friend for old Friends 152

Hanrahan Speaks to the Lovers of his Songs in Coming Days 153

Aedh Pleads with the Elemental Powers 153

Aedh Wishes his Beloved were Dead 154

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven 154

Mongan Thinks of his Past Greatness 155

Yeats's Notes 156

Notes on the Poems 171

Index of Titles 189

Index of First Lines 192

Customer Reviews