Under Ben Bulben

Under Ben Bulben

Original Text

Yeats, William Butler. W. B. Yeats: Selected Poetry: 205-208. Ed. by A. Norman Jeffares. London: Macmillan, 1968.

1Swear by what the sages spoke
2Round the Mareotic Lake
3That the Witch of Atlas knew,
4Spoke and set the cocks a-crow.
5Swear by those horsemen, by those women
6Complexion and form prove superhuman,
7That pale, long-visaged company
8That air in immortality
9Completeness of their passions won;
10Now they ride the wintry dawn
11Where Ben Bulben sets the scene.
12Here's the gist of what they mean.
13Many times man lives and dies
14Between his two eternities,
15That of race and that of soul,
16And ancient Ireland knew it all.
17Whether man die in his bed
18Or the rifle knocks him dead,
19A brief parting from those dear
20Is the worst man has to fear.
21Though grave-diggers' toil is long,
22Sharp their spades, their muscles strong.
23They but thrust their buried men
24Back in the human mind again.
25You that Mitchel's prayer have heard,
26'Send war in our time, O Lord!'
27Know that when all words are said
28And a man is fighting mad,
29Something drops from eyes long blind,
30He completes his partial mind,
31For an instant stands at ease,
32Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.
33Even the wisest man grows tense
34With some sort of violence
35Before he can accomplish fate,
36Know his work or choose his mate.
37Poet and sculptor, do the work,
38Nor let the modish painter shirk
39What his great forefathers did.
40Bring the soul of man to God,
41Make him fill the cradles right.
42Measurement began our might:
43Forms a stark Egyptian thought,
44Forms that gentler Phidias wrought.
45Michael Angelo left a proof
46On the Sistine Chapel roof,
47Where but half-awakened Adam
48Can disturb globe-trotting Madam
49Till her bowels are in heat,
50proof that there's a purpose set
51Before the secret working mind:
52Profane perfection of mankind.
53Quattrocento put in paint
54On backgrounds for a God or Saint
55Gardens where a soul's at ease;
56Where everything that meets the eye,
57Flowers and grass and cloudless sky,
58Resemble forms that are or seem
59When sleepers wake and yet still dream.
60And when it's vanished still declare,
61With only bed and bedstead there,
62That heavens had opened.
63                           Gyres run on;
64When that greater dream had gone
65Calvert and Wilson, Blake and Claude,
66Prepared a rest for the people of God,
67Palmer's phrase, but after that
68Confusion fell upon our thought.
69Irish poets, learn your trade,
70Sing whatever is well made,
71Scorn the sort now growing up
72All out of shape from toe to top,
73Their unremembering hearts and heads
74Base-born products of base beds.
75Sing the peasantry, and then
76Hard-riding country gentlemen,
77The holiness of monks, and after
78Porter-drinkers' randy laughter;
79Sing the lords and ladies gay
80That were beaten into the clay
81Through seven heroic centuries;
82Cast your mind on other days
83That we in coming days may be
84Still the indomitable Irishry.
85Under bare Ben Bulben's head
86In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
87An ancestor was rector there
88Long years ago, a church stands near,
89By the road an ancient cross.
90No marble, no conventional phrase;
91On limestone quarried near the spot
92By his command these words are cut:
93          Cast a cold eye
94          On life, on death.
95          Horseman, pass by!
Publication Start Year
Publication Notes

Last Poems (1936-1939)

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