Mr Yeats

I love me some William Butler Yeats, and what better day than St Paddy’s Day to read a little verse by Ireland’s best? If you’re not familiar with Mr Yeats, today is your lucky day. Keep reading; below are my two all-time favorite poems of his. I love, love, love them both. If you don’t have any Yeats in your collection, click here and order some today. I know, I’m bossy but really it’s for your own good and you will probably thank me later.

But first, a little background info: Yeats was born June 13, 1865 (a fellow Gemini, and likely half-crazy like the rest of us twins). His dad was a painter, and Yeats was schooled in art but much preferred poetry, and broke with family tradition to pursue his craft. I’m glad he did. He was quite a handsome guy, but wasn’t especially lucky in love. While hard to live that way, I suppose it provided much fodder for his written word. This is my favorite photo of him because of the messy hair and trendy glasses; he could totally pull that look off today, as we speak. I’m not so sure about the Colonel Sanders suit, though. That’s taking it a bit far.

I’m not much of a romantic, and am not very sentimental either (but not quite cold and heartless), but the sweetness of “When You Are Old” gets me every time. I suspect he wrote it about his true love, Maude Gonne (who, by the way, was not his wife; he asked several times but she refused, and they both married other people). The theme of unrequited love is there, among the deep shadows of her eyes and her “changing face.” Now that I too am an old lady with under-eye shadows and a changing (i.e., not so youthful) face, the message of this poem is even more powerful.

The first time I read “The Stolen Child,” I had to sit down and take it all in. It still has that effect on me. I’m already sitting, so I’m good now, but it does move me. I didn’t have kids at the time, was a carefree college girl, and motherhood seemed a very distant destination on that particular world tour. Now that motherhood is my permanent stop, the imagery of the child being lured away “to the waters and the wild, with a faery hand in hand” seems scary and cruel, yet still magical and tempting in its prose. It reminds me a bit of the children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, whose brilliance is not something I can do justice to in this space, so I will defer (for now). Again, if you’re not familiar with Where the Wild Things Are, click here and order it today. ¬†And so before I get sidetracked and start rambling about how much I love all things Sendak, “Let the wild rumpus start!”

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,.
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To to waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For to world’s more full of weeping than you
can understand.


Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
For be comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
from a world more full of weeping than you.