In Memory of W. B. Yeats

W. H. Auden

 

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

     

II

     You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
     The parish of rich women, physical decay,
     Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
     Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
     For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
     In the valley of its making where executives
     Would never want to tamper, flows on south
     From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
     Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
     A way of happening, a mouth.
     
     

III

          Earth, receive an honoured guest:
          William Yeats is laid to rest.
          Let the Irish vessel lie
          Emptied of its poetry.
          In the nightmare of the dark
          All the dogs of Europe bark,
          And the living nations wait,
          Each sequestered in its hate;
          Intellectual disgrace
          Stares from every human face,
          And the seas of pity lie
          Locked and frozen in each eye.
          Follow, poet, follow right
          To the bottom of the night,
          With your unconstraining voice
          Still persuade us to rejoice;
          With the farming of a verse
          Make a vineyard of the curse,
          Sing of human unsuccess
          In a rapture of distress;
          In the deserts of the heart
          Let the healing fountain start,
          In the prison of his days
          Teach the free man how to praise.
 
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Poems by This Author

As I Walked Out One Evening by W. H. Auden
As I walked out one evening,
Epitaph on a Tyrant by W. H. Auden
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
First Things First by W. H. Auden
Friday's Child by W. H. Auden
In Memory of Sigmund Freud by W. H. Auden
When there are so many we shall have to mourn,
Lullaby by W. H. Auden
Lay Your Sleeping head, my love,
On Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics by W. H. Auden
On the Circuit by W. H. Auden
Among pelagian travelers,
September 1, 1939 by W. H. Auden
I sit in one of the dives
The Fall of Rome by W. H. Auden
The piers are pummelled by the waves;
The More Loving One by W. H. Auden
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden
She looked over his shoulder
The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be


Further Reading

Poems About Illness
Kaddish, Part I
by Allen Ginsberg
A Litany in Time of Plague
by Thomas Nashe
Afternoon at MacDowell
by Jane Kenyon
Against Elegies
by Marilyn Hacker
Anxieties
by Donna Masini
Auld Lang Syne
by Jennifer L. Knox
Beasts
by Carmen Giménez Smith
Bedside
by William Olsen
Breathing
by Josephine Dickinson
Christmas Away from Home
by Jane Kenyon
Cognitive Deficit Market
by Joshua Corey
Evening
by Gail Mazur
Everyone Gasps with Anxiety
by Jeni Olin
Having it Out with Melancholy
by Jane Kenyon
Her Body Like a Lantern Next to Me
by John Rybicki
Hospital Writing Workshop
by Rafael Campo
Losing It
by Margaret Gibson
Mastectomy
by Wanda Coleman
Phases
by Michael Redhill
Prayer for Sleep
by Cheryl Dumesnil
R.I.P., My Love
by Tory Dent
Sick
by Shel Silverstein
The Embrace
by Mark Doty
The Land of Counterpane
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Nurse
by Michael Blumenthal
The Sick Child
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Sick Rose
by William Blake
The Subalterns
by Thomas Hardy
The Transparent Man
by Anthony Hecht
The Visit
by Jason Shinder
To Amy Lowell
by Eunice Tietjens
Tubes
by Donald Hall
Units
by Albert Goldbarth
Visits to St. Elizabeths
by Elizabeth Bishop
Waking in the Blue
by Robert Lowell
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
by John Milton