Poem – A Man Young And Old – William Butler Yeats

First Love 
THOUGH nurtured like the sailing moon 

In beauty’s murderous brood, 

She walked awhile and blushed awhile 

And on my pathway stood 

Until I thought her body bore 

A heart of flesh and blood. 

But since I laid a hand thereon 

And found a heart of stone 

I have attempted many things 

And not a thing is done, 

For every hand is lunatic 

That travels on the moon. 

She smiled and that transfigured me 

And left me but a lout, 

Maundering here, and maundering there, 

Emptier of thought 

Than the heavenly circuit of its stars 

When the moon sails out. 

Human Dignity 

Like the moon her kindness is, 

If kindness I may call 

What has no comprehension in’t, 

But is the same for all 

As though my sorrow were a scene 

Upon a painted wall. 

So like a bit of stone I lie 

Under a broken tree. 

I could recover if I shrieked 

My heart’s agony 

To passing bird, but I am dumb 

From human dignity. 

The Mermaid 

A mermaid found a swimming lad, 

Picked him for her own, 

Pressed her body to his body, 

Laughed; and plunging down 

Forgot in cruel happiness 

That even lovers drown. 

The Death of the Hare 

I have pointed out the yelling pack, 

The hare leap to the wood, 

And when I pass a compliment 

Rejoice as lover should 

At the drooping of an eye, 

At the mantling of the blood. 

Then’ suddenly my heart is wrung 

By her distracted air 

And I remember wildness lost 

And after, swept from there, 

Am set down standing in the wood 

At the death of the hare. 

The Empty Cup 

A crazy man that found a cup, 

When all but dead of thirst, 

Hardly dared to wet his mouth 

Imagining, moon-accursed, 

That another mouthful 

And his beating heart would burst. 

October last I found it too 

But found it dry as bone, 

And for that reason am I crazed 

And my sleep is gone. 

His Memories 

We should be hidden from their eyes, 

Being but holy shows 

And bodies broken like a thorn 

Whereon the bleak north blows, 

To think of buried Hector 

And that none living knows. 

The women take so little stock 

In what I do or say 

They’d sooner leave their cosseting 

To hear a jackass bray; 

My arms are like the twisted thorn 

And yet there beauty lay; 

The first of all the tribe lay there 

And did such pleasure take — 

She who had brought great Hector down 

And put all Troy to wreck — 

That she cried into this ear, 

‘Strike me if I shriek.’ 

The Friends of his Youth 

Laughter not time destroyed my voice 

And put that crack in it, 

And when the moon’s pot-bellied 

I get a laughing fit, 

For that old Madge comes down the lane, 

A stone upon her breast, 

And a cloak wrapped about the stone, 

And she can get no rest 

With singing hush and hush-a-bye; 

She that has been wild 

And barren as a breaking wave 

Thinks that the stone’s a child. 

And Peter that had great affairs 

And was a pushing man 

Shrieks, ‘I am King of the Peacocks,’ 

And perches on a stone; 

And then I laugh till tears run down 

And the heart thumps at my side, 

Remembering that her shriek was love 

And that he shrieks from pride. 

Summer and Spring 

We sat under an old thorn-tree 

And talked away the night, 

Told all that had been said or done 

Since first we saw the light, 

And when we talked of growing up 

Knew that we’d halved a soul 

And fell the one in t’other’s arms 

That we might make it whole; 

Then peter had a murdering look, 

For it seemed that he and she 

Had spoken of their childish days 

Under that very tree. 

O what a bursting out there was, 

And what a blossoming, 

When we had all the summer-time 

And she had all the spring! 

The Secrets of the Old 

I have old women’s sectets now 

That had those of the young; 

Madge tells me what I dared not think 

When my blood was strong, 

And what had drowned a lover once 

Sounds like an old song. 

Though Margery is stricken dumb 

If thrown in Madge’s way, 

We three make up a solitude; 

For none alive to-day 

Can know the stories that we know 

Or say the things we say: 

How such a man pleased women most 

Of all that are gone, 

How such a pair loved many years 

And such a pair but one, 

Stories of the bed of straw 

Or the bed of down. 

His Wildness 

O bid me mount and sail up there 

Amid the cloudy wrack, 

For peg and Meg and Paris’ love 

That had so straight a back, 

Are gone away, and some that stay 

Have changed their silk for sack. 

Were I but there and none to hear 

I’d have a peacock cry, 

For that is natural to a man 

That lives in memory, 

Being all alone I’d nurse a stone 

And sing it lullaby. 

From ‘Oedipus at Colonus’ 

Endure what life God gives and ask no longer span; 

Cease to remember the delights of youth, travel-wearied aged man; 

Delight becomes death-longing if all longing else be vain. 

Even from that delight memory treasures so, 

Death, despair, division of families, all entanglements of mankind grow, 

As that old wandering beggar and these God-hated children know. 

In the long echoing street the laughing dancers throng, 

The bride is catried to the bridegroom’s chamber 

through torchlight and tumultuous song; 

I celebrate the silent kiss that ends short life or long. 

Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say; 

Never to have drawn the breath of life, never to have 

looked into the eye of day; 

The second best’s a gay goodnight and quickly turn away.

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