I went out to the hazel wood

A piece of whimsy here from WB Yeats, which looks like it is inspired by folk tales and old country traditions. It is the tale of a man who went fishing in a wood, where there was a stream, he catches a trout, the trout turns into a beautiful girl, the girl runs away, and then the poor fellow spends the rest of his life looking for her.
I have never seen the name Angus spelled like this anywhere else, perhaps it is an Irish variant.
The Song of Wandering Aengus


I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Source: The Wind Among the Reeds (1899)

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/244302&gt;

Perhaps not WB Yeats’s finest hour?

The Poetry Dude


The trees are in their autumn beauty,

This nature poem by WB Yeats has both a wonderful description of swans on the water and the surrounding scene, but also a great connection with the passage of time and its impact on the poet. Coole is a place in Western Ireland, today a park and a nature reserve, where Yeats used to go and stay early in the twentieth century. Looks like a great place to visit.

The Wild Swans at Coole

W. B. Yeats, 1865 – 1939


The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine and fifty swans.

The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold,
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

From <https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/wild-swans-coole&gt;
The first stanza is purely descriptive and captures marvellously the tranquil autumn scene with the trees around the lake and the swans upon the water. The poet counts the swans up to 59. The second stanza introduces the passage of time, it is nineteen years since the poet began visiting and counting swans. The third stanza recounts how all has changed in those 19 years, presumably because the poet is that much older and has more sense and experience of the cares of the world. The fourth stanza contrasts these changes with the seeming unchanging view of the swans on the lake (although presumably this would be another generation of swans). The fifth stanza looks to the future – one day the swans will be gone and who will see them then?

In each stanza, note the rhymes, second and fourth line, fifth and sixth line, but first and third do not rhyme. Is that a standard form?

The Poetry Dude

HOW can I, that girl standing there,


HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

I have lots of sympathy for the sentiments expressed by  Yeats in this poem, When you see a pretty girl in front of you, other concerns do tend to fade into the background. Here it is politics, but  it could be business, schoolwork, or even writing poetry. This is why professional sportsmen used to be separated from their wives and girlfriends before big events (not sure that  is still the case these days). But when a political leader falls into this trap he tends to be severely criticized, like Silvio Berlusconi.
Anyway, right or wrong, this poem captures that  moment when the poet is listening to some deep and important political discourse, he sees a girl standing near him, and straight away his attention leaves the politician and he wishes or imagines that he is young and holding her in his arms. I;m guessing most of us know the feeling very well.
Thank you WB Yeats.

We sat together at one summer’s end,

This is a lovely poem from WB Yeats, which is at once a conversation about the art of poetry, about beauty in general, and finally a love poem. And it has a narrative flow which is rather satisfying. I don’t know how to explain the title, but there is plenty else to enjoy in this poem.

Adam’s Curse

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172057&gt;

The first three lines set the scene, time and place, protagonists, subject. Three people, the poet,, his friend and a woman, sitting together at the end of summer talking of poetry. The woman is both beautiful and mild, and the close friend, perhaps lover of the poet’s friend. They are having an intimate conversation, which turns to the subject of poetry.

The poet, speaking from his own experience, talks of the hard labour that goes into crafting a poem, one line takes hours, perhaps, and compares it to other forms of hard physical labour like scrubbing steps on your hands and knees or breaking stones like a prisoner. And yet the readers who see the well-formed verse imagine it was easy, that the writer set down the line fully-formed and already beautiful. And so those respectable people following professions like bankers or schoolmasters look down on the poet as an idle scribbler.

The conversation continues with the beautiful mild woman replying in a voice that reinforces her attractiveness, it is sweet and low. She finds parallel in woman’s beauty, most women need to work very hard to look beautiful all the time, whereas men think beauty is natural. (Compare the effort women put in to things like hair styling, make up, nails, skin care etc. with what most men do – it does indeed look like hard work.)

The poet replies that all fine things require much effort, even being in love, as lovers take inspiration from studying old books about love.

In the final part of the poem, the three fall silent, comfortable in their silence and in each other’s company as the late summer’s day finishes and the moon rises. Inspired by the conversation, the poet thinks he is falling in love with the woman, but knows it will not be easy, for love is hard and they are both conscious that their self-awareness prevents them from falling into the easy illusions of falling in love.

The Poetry Dude

That is no country for old men. The young

The first line of Yeats’ poem, Sailing to Byzantium will be familiar to movie fans as the title of a very fine, and very violent movie that came out a few years ago, No Country for Old Men. But it also sets the tone for the rest of this poem and explains the title and conclusion of the poem. The everyday hustle, bustle, energy and commerce of life in one of western Europe’s big cities, I guess Dublin in Yeats’s case, is no place for an old man, who has no more need to earn a living or raise a family, and indeed it is easy for the old to be marginalised. So Yeats advises going to a place where contemplation and reflection on timeless wisdom are possible, and, for him, this is symbolised by sailing to Byzantium, to live with sages and priests, wise men who will welcome him.

Sailing to Byzantium

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172063&gt;

The poem is made up of four stanzas, each of 8 lines. The first sets the context, the second deepens the dilemma and introduces the resolution, the third explains what the poet is seeking and the fourth brings the poet to his eternal destiny. So there is progression and resolution in the poem.

The first stanza begins with the notion that the poet’s home is no place for old men and goes on to describe features of the Ireland he knew, a place for the young, enjoying nature and caring little for the intellect and experience of the old.

The second stanza homes in on the status of the old, withering away, neglected, but wanting to sing in a place where their song is not heard. And so the poet resolves to sail away to Byzantium, to a place where wisdom, art, beauty and experience are honoured and valued.

The third stanza greets the sages and priests of Byzantium and implores them to liberate his soul from the prison of a dying body and set him free to sing for eternity.

The fourth stanza has the poet transformed into a golden bird able to sing for ever to the Emperor, the lords and ladies or any passer by. The songs are Yeats’s poetry – and we can imagine him singing to us from Byzantium as we scan his words off the page.

The Poetry Dude

WINE comes in at the mouth

What a rich mixture of poems we can find with WB Yeats – love poems, Irish folk poems, war poems, political poems, poems of loss, aging poems, etc etc. I am always pleasantly surprised by what I find when I dip into his works. This poem is a wine, women and song poem, such as we might have seen from Ronsard, Villon, Fitzgerald or Baudelaire.

A Drinking Song

WINE comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-drinking-song/&gt;

A simple rhyme for a simple idea; but which comes first, the wine or the love – that’s a chicken and egg question.

The Poetry Dude

Why should I blame her that she filled my days

Here is a nice poem from WB Yeats which takes inspiration from the classics, referring directly back to the tales of Helen of Troy, as told by Homer and Virgil two or three thousand years previously. I love the way poetic traditions and ideas get linked up across the ages and across the centuries in this way. The poem takes the form of a soliloquy (did I spell that right) where the poet is questioning himself about a turbulent lover, who at the same time makes his life a misery while her great beauty inspires him. A thorny dilemma indeed…

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

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179967&gt;

The first five lines set out the question, why should the poet blame this woman for her many defects and the turbulent impact she has on himself and others around her. There follow other questions, indicating the poet’s quandary as he works out his attitude towards this beautiful but disturbing woman. In fact he sees her beauty as unnatural or supernatural such that she would not be constrained by the normal rules of behaviour. Indeed she is a second Helen of Troy, whose beauty led to the destruction of a great city. And yet the final question, “Was there another Troy for her to burn?” has already been answered in the title of the poem, “No Second Troy”. We are left to infer that the poet will continue to suffer at the hands of this woman, but that he will not be prevented from continuing to love her.

The Poetry Dude