Friday, August 12, 2011

In Memory of W. B. Yeats

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

W.H. Auden


marg said...

Brilliant poem. You don't mention that it was written by Auden.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you have heard WH Auden reading it himself. Always interesting to hear the cadences intended by the poet. Interestingly the spoken version is slightly different - I know he amended it but don't know which is the latter version.

In Memory of WB Yeats


LottieP said...

Over 25 years ago, a group of us recited it for a school assembly. My part was from "Now he is scattered..." to "the guts of the living". I've never forgotten them. My friend Jamie read the last stanza and I always hear his voice when I read it.

Thanks Marg, I have added the correct attribution! It was written in 1939.

I'm never sure about hearing the poet read the work, tgolm. Wow! He has quite an accent.

LottieP said...

We read the lines "Time that is intolerant..." which are missing from the version here but appear in the reading you link to.

Anonymous said...

he probably added the "indifferent in a week" bit after some "boyfriend trouble".

Good Documentary here on him:


LottieP said...

Thanks for the link. Strangely moving, especially the music. I'll ask my mum if she knows who it is.

Anonymous said...

it was mentioned in one of the comments below

Max Richter - 'Vladimir's Blues' from The Blue Notebooks.

LottieP said...

Thank you for the link. It sent me on an internet odyssey eneding with this.

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