Saturday, August 15, 2020

In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W. H. Auden

 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.

O all the instruments 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 rumors;

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 tomorrow,

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. 

He was silly like us: His gift survived it all. 


O all the instruments agree

The day of his death was a dark cold day.




Earth, receive an honored guest; 

William Yeats is laid to rest: 

Let the Irish vessel lie 

Emptied of its poetry. 


Time that is intolerant

Of the brave and innocent, 

And indifferent in a week

To a beautiful physique, 


Worships language and forgives 

Everyone by whom it lives, 

Pardons cowardice, conceit, 

Lays its honors at their feet. 


Time that with this strange excuse 

Pardoned Kipling and his views, 

And will pardon Paul Claudel, 

Pardons him for writing well. 


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 fountains start, 

In the prison of his days 

Teach the free man how to praise.

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