memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘w.b. yeats’

Her pilgrim soul



When I was young I greatly admired the poem When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats, the middle verse of which I quote:

How many loved your glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true;

But one loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

Now I’m getting to be quite old myself and well, it has more meaning for me and I still like it.



Sailing to Byzantium (2)

I have always considered that this poem, Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats, to be very beautiful.

Sailing to Byzantium

THAT is no country for old men. The young

In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

– Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unageing intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing-masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.



An acre of grass

We all stood around our father’s body,

Laid out like an ancient Patriarch

Unseeing eyes tilted towards Heaven,


I felt overwhelmed

Carried away by events

Drifting down a turbid stream

With massy clouds already gathering

In my brain.


Later at the funeral I read out a short poem by one his favourite poets, W. B. Yeats.


Picture and book remain,

An acre of green grass

For air and exercise,

Now strength of body goes;

Midnight, an old house

Where nothing stirs but a mouse.

My temptation is quiet.

Here at life’s end

Neither loose imagination

Nor mill of the mind

Consuming its rag and bone,

Can make the truth known.

Grant me an old man’s frenzy,

Myself must I remake

Till I am Timon and Lear

Or that William Blake

Who beat upon the wall

Till Truth obeyed his call.

A mind that Michael Angelo knew

That can pierce the clouds

Or inspired by frenzy

Shake the dead in their shrouds;

Forgotten else by mankind,

An old man’s eagle mind.


Tread Softly …

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

by William Butler Yeats


Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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