Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Her Praise

by William Butler Yeats

She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I have gone about the house, gone up and down
As a man does who has published a new book,
Or a young girl dressed out in her new gown,
And though I have turned the talk by hook or crook
Until her praise should be the uppermost theme,
A woman spoke of some new tale she had read,
A man confusedly in a half dream
As though some other name ran in his head.
She is foremost of those that I would hear praised.
I will talk no more of books or the long war
But walk by the dry thorn until I have found
Some beggar sheltering from the wind, and there
Manage the talk until her name come round.
If there be rags enough he will know her name
And be well pleased remembering it, for in the old days,
Though she had young men's praise and old men's blame,
Among the poor both old and young gave her praise.

* * *

Sorry it's been so long since I last posted! I've been working very hard lately on my book. If it's good, I guess you all will get the benefit of it eventually. If not--well, you've been very kind not to complain.

I just got a biography of Maud Gonne, the woman Yeats loved and admired. She seems to have been quite a woman--Yeats was far from her only admirer. As he points out, many have blamed her, and yet her goodness to the poor led to their unadulterated praise. She worked tirelessly to help evicted Irish tenants keep their land, and when this proved impossible, she helped provide for somewhere for them to live. She was not even Irish herself, but English, and at least at first she was still Anglican. But it seems that she could not turn away from such obvious need.

This poem is a twist on a common experience: when we're proud of something, we try to lead the conversation around and get ourselves a little (well-deserved) praise. But Yeats is far more proud of Maud than he is of himself. All he wants is to hear her praised, and not hear people wasting their time talking of other things "as if some other name ran in their heads." No, he wants them to think only of her--as he does.

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