Jan. 28, 2022

OTD: Death of William Butler Yeats - 1939

OTD: Death of William Butler Yeats - 1939

William Butler Yeats (1865 - 1939) died on this day at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour in Menton on the French Riviera. We repeat his words to each other; they are lyrical and prospicient. Even now, when we recite his verses long after his passing, the lines deliver beautiful hardened truths.

Yeats was the first of Ireland's four Nobel Literary Laureates. In writing of Yeats on his award, the Nobel Committee cited him: "for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation". These words still hold today.

On this day, Sailing to Byzantium, one of his greatest poems, seems an apt choice. Written in 1926 when Yeats was beginning to feel the weight of his years


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.