Yeats, William Butler. W. B. Yeats: Selected Poetry: 181-182. Ed. by A. Norman Jeffares. London: Macmillan, 1968.
1I have heard that hysterical women say
2They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.
3Of poets that are always gay,
4For everybody knows or else should know
5That if nothing drastic is done
6Aeroplane and Zeppelin will come out.
7Pitch like King Billy bomb-balls in
8Until the town lie beaten flat.
9All perform their tragic play,
10There struts Hamlet, there is Lear,
11That's Ophelia, that Cordelia;
12Yet they, should the last scene be there,
13The great stage curtain about to drop,
14If worthy their prominent part in the play,
15Do not break up their lines to weep.
16They know that Hamlet and Lear are gay;
17Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.
18All men have aimed at, found and lost;
19Black out; Heaven blazing into the head:
20Tragedy wrought to its uttermost.
21Though Hamlet rambles and Lear rages,
22And all the drop-scenes drop at once
23Upon a hundred thousand stages,
24It cannot grow by an inch or an ounce.
25On their own feet they came, or On shipboard,'
26Camel-back; horse-back, ass-back, mule-back,
27Old civilisations put to the sword.
28Then they and their wisdom went to rack:
29No handiwork of Callimachus,
30Who handled marble as if it were bronze,
31Made draperies that seemed to rise
32When sea-wind swept the corner, stands;
33His long lamp-chimney shaped like the stem
34Of a slender palm, stood but a day;
35All things fall and are built again,
36And those that build them again are gay.
37Two Chinamen, behind them a third,
38Are carved in lapis lazuli,
39Over them flies a long-legged bird,
40A symbol of longevity;
41The third, doubtless a serving-man,
42Carries a musical instmment.
43Every discoloration of the stone,
44Every accidental crack or dent,
45Seems a water-course or an avalanche,
46Or lofty slope where it still snows
47Though doubtless plum or cherry-branch
48Sweetens the little half-way house
49Those Chinamen climb towards, and I
50Delight to imagine them seated there;
51There, on the mountain and the sky,
52On all the tragic scene they stare.
53One asks for mournful melodies;
54Accomplished fingers begin to play.
55Their eyes mid many wrinkles, their eyes,
56Their ancient, glittering eyes, are gay.
Publication Start Year:
Last Poems (1936-1939)
RPO poem Editors:
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh