Saturday, December 25, 2010

Verse of the Day - WH Auden

Auden captured the desolate mood of winter perfectly in his tribute to one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, William Butler Yeats.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats by WH Auden

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.


  1. hi David, This touches on many aspects I have given a lot of thought to. Like diving into yourself to release your genius to the point where death sits on your shoulder like a parrot. Here's something that comes to my mind;

    There are those who leave a thin, very, very thin thread of ego. There’s one being who for twenty years was locked up in a cave; and every year his devotees opened the cave. Once a year they’d go in to make contact. There was no food. Nothing. And he looked like a corpse except that his nails kept growing and his hair kept growing….. for twenty years he was not hanging out with much. He was just leaving a subtle thread to keep in contact.

  2. Thanks Suzzy. This is intersting. I like the way you write.