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WILLIAM BUTLER (W. B.) YEATS  
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“…I have said several things to which I only have the key.  The romance is for my readers.  They must not even know there is a symbol anywhere.  They will not find out.  If they did it would spoil the art, yet the whole poem is full of symbols…”
            --W. B. Yeats

 

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and more stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

(1910)

[On "No Second Troy": As was typical of Yeats, in this poem he was referring to a number of different stories in his life—different ‘levels’ of stories:  public and private, national and local, ancient and new—using symbols as masks, as a way of drawing many stories into a single narrative.  In part he was referring to his frustrating, unrequited love for Maud Gonne, who was a more ‘violent’ revolutionary spirit than he for the independence of Ireland from England.  Lines 3 and 4 speak more directly to the revolutionary zeitgeist.] 

 

A Woman Homer Sung

If any man drew near
When I was young,
I thought, ‘He holds her dear,’
And shook with hate and fear.
But O! ‘twas bitter wrong
If he could pass her by
With an indifferent eye.

Whereon I wrote and wrought,
And now, being grey,
I dream that I have brought
To such a pich my thought
That coming time can say,
‘He shadowed in a glass
What thing her body was.’

For she had fiery blood
When I was young,
And trod so sweetly proud
As ‘twere upon a cloud,
A woman Homer sung,
That life and letters seem
But an heroic dream.

(1910)

[On “A Woman Homer Sung”:  Yeats was fond of referencing Homer, especially in the book this poem is quoted from: The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910).  He often used the Homeric time as one of true heroism, something during his life he felt his own world was far from.  Again, the woman in this poem was likely the subject of his unrequited love, Maud Gonne, a former actress with a fiery revolutionary spirit.]

 

The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water

I heard the old, old men say,
‘Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.’
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say,
‘All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.’

(1904)

 

The Crazed Moon

Crazed through much child-bearing
The moon is staggering in the sky;
Moon-struck by the despairing
Glances of her wandering eye
We grope, and grope in vain,
For children born of her pain.

Children dazed or dead!
When she in all her virginal pride
First trod on the mountain’s head
What stir ran through the countryside
Where every foot obeyed her glance!
What manhood led the dance?

Fly-catchers of the moon,
Our hands are blenched, our fingers seem
But slender needles of bone;
Blenched by that malicious dream
They are spread wide that each
May rend what comes in reach.

(1933)

[On “The Crazed Moon”:  This poem was published in a book of verse (his tenth) entitled The Winding Stair and Other Poems in 1933, just months after Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.  It was fifteen years after the end of World War I, and Europe and the US were still reeling from their recent market crashes.  Nationalism driven by hardship and fear was in high swing worldwide.  All of this, if you look closely enough, is echoed in the details of this poem.]

 

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Last Updated: Tue, June 27, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.