The Tower

Original Text: 

Yeats, William Butler. W. B. Yeats: Selected Poetry: 105-112. Ed. by A. Norman Jeffares. London: Macmillan, 1968.

I
1WHAT shall I do with this absurdity--
2O heart, O troubled heart--this caricature,
3Decrepit age that has been tied to me
4As to a dog's tail?
5Never had I more
6Excited, passionate, fantastical
7Imagination, nor an ear and eye
8That more expected the impossible--
9No, not in boyhood when with rod and fly,
10Or the humbler worm, I climbed Ben Bulben's back
11And had the livelong summer day to spend.
12It seems that I must bid the Muse go pack,
13Choose Plato and Plotinus for a friend
14Until imagination, ear and eye,
15Can be content with argument and deal
16In abstract things; or be derided by
17A sort of battered kettle at the heel.
II
18I pace upon the battlements and stare
19On the foundations of a house, or where
20Tree, like a sooty finger, starts from the earth;
21And send imagination forth
22Under the day's declining beam, and call
23Images and memories
24From ruin or from ancient trees,
25For I would ask a question of them all.
26Beyond that ridge lived Mrs. French, and once
27When every silver candlestick or sconce
28Lit up the dark mahogany and the wine.
29A serving-man, that could divine
30That most respected lady's every wish,
31Ran and with the garden shears
32Clipped an insolent farmer's ears
33And brought them in a little covered dish.
34Some few remembered still when I was young
35A peasant girl commended by a Song,
36Who'd lived somewhere upon that rocky place,
37And praised the colour of her face,
38And had the greater joy in praising her,
39Remembering that, if walked she there,
40Farmers jostled at the fair
41So great a glory did the song confer.
42And certain men, being maddened by those rhymes,
43Or else by toasting her a score of times,
44Rose from the table and declared it right
45To test their fancy by their sight;
46But they mistook the brightness of the moon
47For the prosaic light of day--
48Music had driven their wits astray--
49And one was drowned in the great bog of Cloone.
50Strange, but the man who made the song was blind;
51Yet, now I have considered it, I find
52That nothing strange; the tragedy began
53With Homer that was a blind man,
54And Helen has all living hearts betrayed.
55O may the moon and sunlight seem
56One inextricable beam,
57For if I triumph I must make men mad.
58And I myself created Hanrahan
59And drove him drunk or sober through the dawn
60From somewhere in the neighbouring cottages.
61Caught by an old man's juggleries
62He stumbled, tumbled, fumbled to and fro
63And had but broken knees for hire
64And horrible splendour of desire;
65I thought it all out twenty years ago:
66Good fellows shuffled cards in an old bawn;
67And when that ancient ruffian's turn was on
68He so bewitched the cards under his thumb
69That all but the one card became
70A pack of hounds and not a pack of cards,
71And that he changed into a hare.
72Hanrahan rose in frenzy there
73And followed up those baying creatures towards--
74O towards I have forgotten what--enough!
75I must recall a man that neither love
76Nor music nor an enemy's clipped ear
77Could, he was so harried, cheer;
78A figure that has grown so fabulous
79There's not a neighbour left to say
80When he finished his dog's day:
81An ancient bankrupt master of this house.
82Before that ruin came, for centuries,
83Rough men-at-arms, cross-gartered to the knees
84Or shod in iron, climbed the narrow stairs,
85And certain men-at-arms there were
86Whose images, in the Great Memory stored,
87Come with loud cry and panting breast
88To break upon a sleeper's rest
89While their great wooden dice beat on the board.
90As I would question all, come all who can;
91Come old, necessitous. half-mounted man;
92And bring beauty's blind rambling celebrant;
93The red man the juggler sent
94Through God-forsaken meadows; Mrs. French,
95Gifted with so fine an ear;
96The man drowned in a bog's mire,
97When mocking Muses chose the country wench.
98Did all old men and women, rich and poor,
99Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,
100Whether in public or in secret rage
101As I do now against old age?
102But I have found an answer in those eyes
103That are impatient to be gone;
104Go therefore; but leave Hanrahan,
105For I need all his mighty memories.
106Old lecher with a love on every wind,
107Bring up out of that deep considering mind
108All that you have discovered in the grave,
109For it is certain that you have
110Reckoned up every unforeknown, unseeing
111plunge, lured by a softening eye,
112Or by a touch or a sigh,
113Into the labyrinth of another's being;
114Does the imagination dwell the most
115Upon a woman won or woman lost?
116If on the lost, admit you turned aside
117From a great labyrinth out of pride,
118Cowardice, some silly over-subtle thought
119Or anything called conscience once;
120And that if memory recur, the sun's
121Under eclipse and the day blotted out.
III
122It is time that I wrote my will;
123I choose upstanding men
124That climb the streams until
125The fountain leap, and at dawn
126Drop their cast at the side
127Of dripping stone; I declare
128They shall inherit my pride,
129The pride of people that were
130Bound neither to Cause nor to State.
131Neither to slaves that were spat on,
132Nor to the tyrants that spat,
133The people of Burke and of Grattan
134That gave, though free to refuse--
135pride, like that of the morn,
136When the headlong light is loose,
137Or that of the fabulous horn,
138Or that of the sudden shower
139When all streams are dry,
140Or that of the hour
141When the swan must fix his eye
142Upon a fading gleam,
143Float out upon a long
144Last reach of glittering stream
145And there sing his last song.
146And I declare my faith:
147I mock plotinus' thought
148And cry in plato's teeth,
149Death and life were not
150Till man made up the whole,
151Made lock, stock and barrel
152Out of his bitter soul,
153Aye, sun and moon and star, all,
154And further add to that
155That, being dead, we rise,
156Dream and so create
157Translunar paradise.
158I have prepared my peace
159With learned Italian things
160And the proud stones of Greece,
161Poet's imaginings
162And memories of love,
163Memories of the words of women,
164All those things whereof
165Man makes a superhuman,
166Mirror-resembling dream.
167As at the loophole there
168The daws chatter and scream,
169And drop twigs layer upon layer.
170When they have mounted up,
171The mother bird will rest
172On their hollow top,
173And so warm her wild nest.
174I leave both faith and pride
175To young upstanding men
176Climbing the mountain-side,
177That under bursting dawn
178They may drop a fly;
179Being of that metal made
180Till it was broken by
181This sedentary trade.
182Now shall I make my soul,
183Compelling it to study
184In a learned school
185Till the wreck of body,
186Slow decay of blood,
187Testy delirium
188Or dull decrepitude,
189Or what worse evil come--
190The death of friends, or death
191Of every brilliant eye
192That made a catch in the breath-- .
193Seem but the clouds of the sky
194When the horizon fades;
195Or a bird's sleepy cry
196Among the deepening shades.
Publication Start Year: 
1928
Publication Notes: 

The Tower, 1928.

RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh
RPO Edition: 
2009