Thursday, February 08, 2007

No Second Troy

by William Butler Yeats

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 most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

* * *

Taking the Poetry and Poetics course at Christendom (a lovely course; I don't know why people complain about having to take it) is getting me to read a lot more good poetry -- and also to understand what's so great about it.

This poem is almost a sonnet, but not quite: it's only 12 lines, three quatrains each rhyming abab. But Yeats keeps out of the curse that haunts any modern who tries to write in a form -- the curse of sounding stilted and archaic. He doesn't mix up any natural sentence orders, and his use of enjambment contributes to the natural tone of the poem. But the tone isn't casual, either -- it's a noble uplifting of contemporary speech, which is what poetry, in my opinion, does at its best. Phrases like "beauty like a tightened bow," "high and solitary and most stern," give an almost epic sound to the poem. It makes me want to see this woman, who even in "an age like this" possesses an ancient beauty like Helen of Troy.

I started out not liking Yeats at all, but this poem, among a few others I've read in the past year or two, is doing its best to convert me. I will at least admit that Yeats sometimes produced masterpieces.

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