A Prayer for Yeats's Son

Original Text: 
Rosemarie Rowley, The Broken Pledge and Other Poems ([Dublin]: Tallaght, 1985): 27-28.
2Under the cupola of the dustbin lid
3My child screams on: there is no obstacle
5Whereby the television, and unrest
6Bred in the church for centuries, can be stayed
7And for an hour I have walked and prayed
9I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
10And heard the sirens screaming by the hour
11Under the arches of the bridge: and scream
12From the licentious streets
13Imagining in excited reverie
14That the future years had come
16Far from the traditional values of the See.
17May he be granted holiness yet not
18Holiness to make his spouse distraught
19For some, being holy overmuch
20Consider sanctity sufficient end,
21Lose human kindness, and maybe
22The heart-desiring intimacy
23That chooses whether he should married be.
25Faith is not had as a gift but faith is earned
26By those who are not entirely dutiful;
28For holiness' sake, have learned to compromise
29For many a poor cleric who has never
31Faith from duty, ecumenism must make him wise.
32An intellectual failure is the worst,
33So let him think conservatives accursed
34Have I not seen the holiest man born
35Miss the final blasting horn
37Barter that freedom and every good
38By radical natures understood
39All for an aged man who's sanctimonious.
40And may he belong to a church
41Where all is peace and fruitfulness
43Of the human, not divine.
45Is anything born?
46Ceremony's a name for the out of date,
47And Custom for the slow-changing See.
(with apologies to W. B. Yeats)


1] A parody of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats' poem, "A Prayer for my Daughter," which begins:
Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory's wood and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind,
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.
Rowley explains that at this time the "Catholic Church in Ireland had been very restrictive, and for decades had advocated celibacy as preferable to fertility, even in marriage. [Patrick] Kavanagh later called this a deliberate distortion of the sixth commandment as even sex in marriage was considered sinful. Yeats embodied the free thinking spirit which first inspired the Irish state, but by the time of his death the Irish Catholic Church had become Jansenistic" (March 7, 2007). The poem was originally titled "The Wheels of the World." Back to Line
4] Paul's edict: excommunication. the seven bare hills: Rome, the city of the Vatican, is built on seven hills. Back to Line
8] kind: child (in German). Back to Line
15] Babylonian: an allusion to a goddess culture that celebrated fertility (in contrast to the Roman Catholic emphasis on celibacy). Back to Line
24] ecumenism: systematic ecclesiastical toleration for other Christian faiths, a belief in the universality of the church. Back to Line
27] celibate: one abstaining from sexual relations. Back to Line
30] rictus: voiced profession (literally "open mouth"). Back to Line
36] evangelicus: a Latin word, signifying an unwavering devotion to the Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, books of the Bible that tell variously the story of Jesus' life and can differ over serious matters, such that a soul adhering to one version or interpretation might be dismissed on the day of judgment. Back to Line
42] tares: chaff, not the grain or the wheat. Back to Line
44] Yeats' poem ends,
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.
Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © Rosemarie Rowley 2007. Not to be republished without permission of the poet.