Among School Children

Original Text: 

Yeats, William Butler. W. B. Yeats: Selected Poetry: 127-130. Ed. by A. Norman Jeffares. London: Macmillan, 1968.

1I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
2A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
3The children learn to cipher and to sing,
4To study reading-books and histories,
5To cut and sew, be neat in everything
6In the best modern way--the children's eyes
7In momentary wonder stare upon
8A sixty-year-old smiling public man.
9I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
10Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
11Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
12That changed some childish day to tragedy--
13Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
14Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
15Or else, to alter Plato's parable,
16Into the yolk and white of the one shell.
17And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
18I look upon one child or t'other there
19And wonder if she stood so at that age--
20For even daughters of the swan can share
21Something of every paddler's heritage--
22And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
23And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
24She stands before me as a living child.
25Her present image floats into the mind--
26Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
27Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
28And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
29And I though never of Ledaean kind
30Had pretty plumage once--enough of that,
31Better to smile on all that smile, and show
32There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.
33What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
34Honey of generation had betrayed,
35And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
36As recollection or the drug decide,
37Would think her son, did she but see that shape
38With sixty or more winters on its head,
39A compensation for the pang of his birth,
40Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?
41Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
42Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
43Solider Aristotle played the taws
44Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
45World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
46Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
47What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
48Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.
49Both nuns and mothers worship images,
50But those the candles light are not as those
51That animate a mother's reveries,
52But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
53And yet they too break hearts--O presences
54That passion, piety or affection knows,
55And that all heavenly glory symbolise--
56O self-born mockers of man's enterprise;
57Labour is blossoming or dancing where
58The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
59Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
60Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
61O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
62Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
63O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
64How can we know the dancer from the dance?
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh
RPO Edition: