poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this Poem 

First published in the second edition of The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), "An Irish Airman Forsees His Death" is one of four poems written on Major Robert Gregory, the only son of Lady Gregory, Irish poet, dramatist, and folklorist. The other three poems include "The Sad Shepherd" (later known as "Shepherd and Goatherd"), "In Memory of Major Robert Gregory," and "Reprisals," which was published after Yeats's death.

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate   
Somewhere among the clouds above;   
Those that I fight I do not hate   
Those that I guard I do not love;   
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,   
No likely end could bring them loss   
Or leave them happier than before.   
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,   
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight   
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;   
I balanced all, brought all to mind,   
The years to come seemed waste of breath,   
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

This poem is in the public domain.


This poem is in the public domain.


W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats, widely considered one of the greatest poets of the English language, received the 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature. His work was greatly influenced by the heritage and politics of Ireland.

by this poet


Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they

(Song from an Unfinished Play)

My mother dandled me and sang,   
'How young it is, how young!'   
And made a golden cradle   
That on a willow swung.   
'He went away,' my mother sang,
'When I was brought to bed,'   
And all the while her needle pulled   
The gold and silver thread.   

Hands, do what you're bid:
Bring the balloon of the mind
That bellies and drags in the wind
Into its narrow shed.

collected in

In celebration of the Irish poets who have changed how we think about...