How’s this for confluence? I spent most of the weekend with the prettiest literature professor in Pennsylvania, who’d spent Friday teaching William Butler Yeats to undergrads. I spent Sunday evening with the only father-daughter MV members, and the question was raised, who is your favorite poet? For me, a likely answer (though I refused to be definitive) is W.B. Yeats. Then I had about 20 minutes of coffee and chat on Monday morning with my old friend from BC days (also a MV member and proselytizer), in the early aughts, when we both spent a fair amount of time reading the poetry and other writings of W.B. Yeats.
I won’t go into great detail about the man today (1865-1939). He won the Nobel Prize in 1923, became a Senator of the Irish Free State in 1922, and wrote the following poem in 1921. That’s a pretty solid 3-year run of excellence. This is a great poem that deploys many of the well-known Yeatsian flourishes; even if you’re new-ish to his work, you’ll enjoy the internal rhyme, assonance, and repetition, along with a great emotional force. -ed.
A PRAYER FOR MY DAUGHTER
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. I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower, And under the arches of the bridge, and scream In the elms above the flooded stream; Imagining in excited reverie That the future years had come, Dancing to a frenzied drum, Out of the murderous innocence of the sea. May she be granted beauty and yet not Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught, Or hers before a looking-glass, for such, Being made beautiful overmuch, Consider beauty a sufficient end, Lose natural kindness and maybe The heart-revealing intimacy That chooses right, and never find a friend. Helen being chosen found life flat and dull And later had much trouble from a fool, While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray, Being fatherless could have her way Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man. It's certain that fine women eat A crazy salad with their meat Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone. In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned; Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned By those that are not entirely beautiful; Yet many, that have played the fool For beauty's very self, has charm made wise, And many a poor man that has roved, Loved and thought himself beloved, From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes. May she become a flourishing hidden tree That all her thoughts may like the linnet be, And have no business but dispensing round Their magnanimities of sound, Nor but in merriment begin a chase, Nor but in merriment a quarrel. O may she live like some green laurel Rooted in one dear perpetual place. My mind, because the minds that I have loved, The sort of beauty that I have approved, Prosper but little, has dried up of late, Yet knows that to be choked with hate May well be of all evil chances chief. If there's no hatred in a mind Assault and battery of the wind Can never tear the linnet from the leaf. An intellectual hatred is the worst, So let her think opinions are accursed. Have I not seen the loveliest woman born Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn, Because of her opinionated mind Barter that horn and every good By quiet natures understood For an old bellows full of angry wind? Considering that, all hatred driven hence, The soul recovers radical innocence And learns at last that it is self-delighting, Self-appeasing, self-affrighting, And that its own sweet will is Heaven's will; She can, though every face should scowl And every windy quarter howl Or every bellows burst, be happy still. And may her bridegroom bring her to a house Where all's accustomed, ceremonious; For arrogance and hatred are the wares Peddled in the thoroughfares. 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.