GUEST BLOG/William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
Summary—Yeats returns to Coole Lake and is caught up in the gentle pain of personal memory (how war has changed the world at 1900 compared with 1919). His memory contrasts sharply with the swans, which are treated as symbols of the essential: their hearts have not grown old; they are still attended by passion and conquest.
About the Author—William Butler Yeats (13 June 1865–28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and dramatist and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature. In 1923, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature for what the Nobel Committee described as "inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation;" and he was the first Irishman so honored.
Sources: Poem, public domain via Google. Biography via Wikipedia.
Image: Pencil drawing of William Butler Yeats in 1908 by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). In public domain via Wikipedia.
SUNDAY REVIEW—A new online literary review appearing exclusively on Pillar to Post (www.tomshess.blogspot.com).
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