The Tower

W. B. Yeats

 
                                I
What shall I do with this absurdity—
O heart, O troubled heart—this caricature,
Decrepit age that has been tied to me
As to a dog's tail?
                      Never had I more
Excited, passionate, fanatical
Imagination, nor an ear and eye
That more expected the impossible—
No, not in boyhood when with rod and fly,
Or the humbler worm, I climbed Ben Bulben's back
And had the livelong summer day to spend.
It seems that I must bid the Muse go pack,
Choose Plato and Plotinus for a friend
Until imagination, ear and eye,
Can be content with argument and deal
In abstract things; or be derided by
A sort of battered kettle at the heel.
                                II
I pace upon the battlements and stare
On the foundations of a house, or where
Tree, like a sooty finger, starts from earth;
And send imagination forth
Under the day's declining beam, and call
Images and memories
From ruin or from ancient trees,
For I would ask a question of them all.
Beyond that ridge lived Mrs. French, and once
When every silver candlestick or sconce
Lit up the dark mahogany and the wine,
A serving-man, that could divine
That most respected lady's every wish,
Ran and with the garden shears
Clipped an insolent farmer's ears
And brought them in a little covered dish.
Some few remembered still when I was young
A peasant girl commended by a song,
Who'd lived somewhere upon that rocky place,
And praised the colour of her face,
And had the greater joy in praising her,
Remembering that, if walked she there,
Farmers jostled at the fair
So great a glory did the song confer.
And certain men, being maddened by those rhymes,
Or else by toasting her a score of times,
Rose from the table and declared it right
To test their fancy by their sight;
But they mistook the brightness of the moon
For the prosaic light of day—
Music had driven their wits astray—
And one was drowned in the great bog of Cloone.
Strange, but the man who made the song was blind;
Yet, now I have considered it, I find
That nothing strange; the tragedy began
With Homer that was a blind man,
And Helen has all living hearts betrayed.
O may the moon and sunlight seem
One inextricable beam,
For if I triumph I must make men mad.
And I myself created Hanrahan
And drove him drunk or sober through the dawn
From somewhere in the neighbouring cottages.
Caught by an old man's juggleries
He stumbled, tumbled, fumbled to and fro
And had but broken knees for hire
And horrible splendour of desire;
I thought it all out twenty years ago:
Good fellows shuffled cards in an old bawn;
And when that ancient ruffian's turn was on
He so bewitched the cards under his thumb
That all but the one card became
A pack of hounds and not a pack of cards,
And that he changed into a hare.
Hanrahan rose in frenzy there
And followed up those baying creatures towards—
O towards I have forgotten what—enough!
I must recall a man that neither love
Nor music nor an enemy's clipped ear
Could, he was so harried, cheer;
A figure that has grown so fabulous
There's not a neighbour left to say
When he finished his dog's day:
An ancient bankrupt master of this house.
Before that ruin came, for centuries,
Rough men-at-arms, cross-gartered to the knees
Or shod in iron, climbed the narrow stairs,
And certain men-at-arms there were
Whose images, in the Great Memory stored,
Come with loud cry and panting breast
To break upon a sleeper's rest
While their great wooden dice beat on the board.
As I would question all, come all who can;
Come old, necessitous, half-mounted man;
And bring beauty's blind rambling celebrant;
The red man the juggler sent
Through God-forsaken meadows; Mrs. French,
Gifted with so fine an ear;
The man drowned in a bog's mire,
When mocking Muses chose the country wench.
Did all old men and women, rich and poor,
Who trod upon these rocks or passed this door,
Whether in public or in secret rage
As I do now against old age?
But I have found an answer in those eyes
That are impatient to be gone;
Go therefore; but leave Hanrahan,
For I need all his mighty memories.
Old lecher with a love on every wind,
Bring up out of that deep considering mind
All that you have discovered in the grave,
For it is certain that you have
Reckoned up every unforeknown, unseeing
Plunge, lured by a softening eye,
Or by a touch or a sigh,
Into the labyrinth of another's being;
Does the imagination dwell the most
Upon a woman won or a woman lost?
If on the lost, admit you turned aside
From a great labyrinth out of pride,
Cowardice, some silly over-subtle thought
Or anything called conscience once;
And that if memory recur, the sun's
Under eclipse and the day blotted out.
                                III
It is time that I wrote my will;
I choose upstanding men
That climb the streams until
The fountain leap, and at dawn
Drop their cast at the side
Of dripping stone; I declare
They shall inherit my pride,
The pride of people that were
Bound neither to Cause nor to State,
Neither to slaves that were spat on,
Nor to the tyrants that spat,
The people of Burke and of Grattan
That gave, though free to refuse—
Pride, like that of the morn,
When the headlong light is loose,
Or that of the fabulous horn,
Or that of the sudden shower
When all streams are dry,
Or that of the hour
When the swan must fix his eye
Upon a fading gleam,
Float out upon a long
Last reach of glittering stream
And there sing his last song.
And I declare my faith:
I mock Plotinus' thought
And cry in Plato's teeth,
Death and life were not
Till man made up the whole,
Made lock, stock and barrel
Out of his bitter soul,
Aye, sun and moon and star, all,
And further add to that
That, being dead, we rise,
Dream and so create
Translunar Paradise.
I have prepared my peace
With learned Italian things
And the proud stones of Greece,
Poet's imaginings
And memories of love,
Memories of the words of women,
All those things whereof
Man makes a superhuman
Mirror-resembling dream.
As at the loophole there
The daws chatter and scream,
And drop twigs layer upon layer.
When they have mounted up,
The mother bird will rest
On their hollow top,
And so warm her wild nest.
I leave both faith and pride
To young upstanding men
Climbing the mountain-side,
That under bursting dawn
They may drop a fly;
Being of that metal made
Till it was broken by
This sedentary trade.
Now shall I make my soul,
Compelling it to study
In a learned school
Till the wreck of body,
Slow decay of blood,
Testy delirium
Or dull decrepitude,
Or what worse evil come—
The death of friends, or death
Of every brilliant eye
That made a catch in the breath—
Seem but the clouds of the sky
When the horizon fades,
Or a bird's sleepy cry
Among the deepening shades.
 

Poems by This Author

A Drinking Song by W. B. Yeats
Wine comes in at the mouth
A Prayer for my Daughter by W. B. Yeats
Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Adam's Curse by W. B. Yeats
We sat together at one summer's end
Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven by W. B. Yeats
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death by W. B. Yeats
I know that I shall meet my fate
Easter 1916 by W. B. Yeats
I have met them at close of day
Leda and the Swan by W. B. Yeats
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Never give all the heart by W. B. Yeats
Never give all the heart, for love
Sailing to Byzantium by W. B. Yeats
That is no country for old men. The young
The Balloon of the Mind by W. B. Yeats
Hands, do what you're bid
The Fisherman by W. B. Yeats
Although I can see him still
The Heart of the Woman by W. B. Yeats
O what to me the little room
The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W. B. Yeats
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree
The Living Beauty by W. B. Yeats
I bade, because the wick and oil are spent
The Magi by W. B. Yeats
Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye
The Moods by W. B. Yeats
Time drops in decay
The Player Queen by W. B. Yeats
My mother dandled me and sang
The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The Song of Wandering Aengus by W. B. Yeats
I went out to the hazel wood
The Sorrow of Love by W. B. Yeats
The quarrel of the sparrows in the eaves
The Stolen Child by W. B. Yeats
Where dips the rocky highland
The Wild Swans at Coole by W. B. Yeats
The trees are in their autumn beauty
The Young Man's Song by W. B. Yeats
I whispered,
When You are Old by W. B. Yeats
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
Who goes with Fergus? by W. B. Yeats
Who will go drive with Fergus now


Further Reading

Poems About Aging
Abandonment Under the Walnut Tree
by D. A. Powell
Affirmation
by Donald Hall
Age
by Robert Creeley
Age and Death
by Emma Lazarus
Almost Sixty
by Jim Moore
Beyond the Years
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Blues
by Elizabeth Alexander
Demeter in Paris
by Meghan O'Rourke
E.H.
by John Koethe
El Dorado
by Edgar Allan Poe
Fear of the Future
by John Koethe
First Gestures
by Julia Spicher Kasdorf
Fixed Interval
by Devin Johnston
Forgetfulness
by Billy Collins
Gerontion
by T.S. Eliot
Get Up, Please
by David Kirby
In View of the Fact
by A. R. Ammons
Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year
by Maxine Kumin
Moonlight
by Sara Teasdale
My Lost Youth
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My Skeleton
by Jane Hirshfield
Poem at Thirty
by Michael Ryan
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Quiet
by Tony Hoagland
Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets
by Thomas Lynch
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
Self-Portrait
by Adam Zagajewski
Since Nine—
by C. P. Cavafy
The Chicago Poem
by Jerome Rothenberg
The Edges of Time
by Kay Ryan
The Human Seasons
by John Keats
The Widows of Gravesend
by L. S. Asekoff
The Young Man's Song
by W. B. Yeats
this kind of fire
by Charles Bukowski
To a Young Girl at a Window
by Margaret Widdemer
To Chloe: Who for his sake wished herself younger
by William Cartwright
To Earthward
by Robert Frost
to my last period
by Lucille Clifton
To Think of Time
by Walt Whitman
Two Horses and a Dog
by James Galvin
When You are Old
by W. B. Yeats
Poems About Childhood
"Out, Out—"
by Robert Frost
Don't Let Me Be Lonely [There was a time]
by Claudia Rankine
A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball
by Christopher Merrill
A child said, What is the grass?
by Walt Whitman
Another Country
by Ryan Teitman
anyone lived in a pretty how town
by E. E. Cummings
Babylon
by Robert Graves
Because I cannot remember my first kiss
by Roger Bonair-Agard
Birches
by Robert Frost
Block City
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Blur
by Andrew Hudgins
Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
deer & salt block
by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Early Memory
by January Gill O'Neil
Fern Hill
by Dylan Thomas
Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About
by Judith Viorst
For Some Slight I Can't Quite Recall
by Ross Gay
From the Lives of My Friends
by Michael Dickman
Giraffes
by Kimiko Hahn
Going Down Hill on a Bicycle
by Henry Charles Beeching
In the Waiting Room
by Elizabeth Bishop
Jabberwocky
by Lewis Carroll
Lullaby in Blue
by Betsy Sholl
My Aunts
by Meghan O'Rourke
My Bright Aluminum Tumblers
by Michael Ryan
My Childhood
by Matthew Zapruder
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
by William Wordsworth
Pirate Story
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Playgrounds
by Laurence Alma-Tadema
Pledge
by Elizabeth Powell
Poem for You
by David Shapiro
Recuerdo
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Solar system bedsheets
by Sarah Vap
The Children's Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Gaffe
by C. K. Williams
The Lamb
by William Blake
The Portrait
by Stanley Kunitz
The Retreat
by Henry Vaughan
The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson
They Call This
by C. K. Williams
To My Best Friend's Big Sister
by Ross Gay
Untitled [The child thought it strange]
by Richard Meier
Untitled [You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old]
by Rudyard Kipling
We Are Seven
by William Wordsworth
Dreams
Monna Innominata [I dream of you, to wake]
by Christina Rossetti
The Book of a Thousand Eyes [A dream, still clinging like light to the dark, rounding]
by Lyn Hejinian
A Bedtime Story For Mr. Lamb
by Arthur Nevis
A Book Said Dream and I Do
by Barbara Ras
A Dream Within a Dream
by Edgar Allan Poe
Bedside
by William Olsen
Counting
by Douglas Goetsch
Cradle Song
by William Blake
Darkness
by George Gordon Byron
Dear Tiara
by Sean Thomas Dougherty
Dream In Which I Meet Myself
by Lynn Emanuel
Dream of the Evil Servant
by Reetika Vazirani
Dream Song 1
by John Berryman
Dream Variations
by Langston Hughes
Dreaming About My Father
by Ed Ochester
Flying
by Sarah Arvio
Grasshopper
by Ron Padgett
He Dreams of Falling
by Ruth Ellen Kocher
His Heart
by Caroline Knox
I am Like a Desert Owl, an Owl Among the Ruins
by Noelle Kocot
I Might Have Dreamed This
by Kirsten Dierking
it was a dream
by Lucille Clifton
Japanese Lullaby
by Eugene Field
Joyride
by Ana Božičević
Kristin's Dream In November
by Bernadette Mayer
Last
by Maxine Scates
Lullaby of an Infant Chief
by Sir Walter Scott
Making the Bed
by Burt Kimmelman
My Bright Aluminum Tumblers
by Michael Ryan
Nocturne
by Wayne Miller
O Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
Our eunuch dreams
by Dylan Thomas
Prologue of the Earthly Paradise
by William Morris
Raven's Last Dream
by Red Hawk
Scarecrow on Fire
by Dean Young
Separation is the necessary condition for light.
by Brian Teare
The Dream of the Just
by Dana Gelinas
The Dreamer
by Djuna Barnes
The Good-Morrow
by John Donne
The House
by Richard Wilbur
The Land of Nod
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Republic of Dreams
by Michael Palmer
The Sandman
by Margaret Thomson Janvier
The Sleepers
by Walt Whitman
The Song in the Dream
by Saskia Hamilton
Variation on the Word Sleep
by Margaret Atwood
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
by Eugene Field