Sunday, April 30, 2006

Easter 1916

by William Butler Yeats

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 winged 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 by 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.

* * *

I admit that I don't really understand this. I'm posting it by Eamonn's request. I think it has something to do with the Easter Uprising, but I know so little of the history that this poem is a bit beyond me. Perhaps he could explain it to me? Hm? [Ed. He has done it (and did a really good job, too), and it can be found here.]

The one thing I have to say is that "All is changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born" is a lovely line. Not sure what it means, but it's lovely.


Eamonn said...

I'm sorry to have been so slow to respond to your request. I only saw it today but I have managed to produce a sketchy explanation of the poem. I posted it at my own blog as it's a little too long for a comments box here. The question now is whether it's up to the standard of the acknowledged poetic Magistra of the blogsphere?

Sheila said...

Well, first you'll have to find the "acknowledged poetic Magistra of the blogsphere." I know it is not I.

But, regardless, you did a very good job. I finally understand the poem.