Tuesday 20 March 2018

The Sunday Poem... Anthony Cronin's personal anthology

WB Yeats. Photo: NPA Collection
WB Yeats. Photo: NPA Collection

Anthony Cronin

Most people who have some acquaintance with poetry know the opening lines at least of this poem, led on, if by nothing else, by the beautiful alliteration.

Some not familiar with the poem may not be familiar either with the poet's attitudes and may be dismayed if Yeats thought that a devotion to radical politics was the worst that could happen to a woman. Their conclusion might be that he was short of experience of life, an unthinkable thought.

But these are recurrent themes of his. Radical politics destroys not only the soul but the body as well - which leaves out of account the natural loss of one kind of beauty for another that comes with age.

Yeats, incidentally, was not, as is often reiterated, a familiar figure or a regular guest at Lissadell. His mother's people, the Pollexfens, were 'in trade' so he could not be, such were the limited and destructive-of-possibility apartheid politics of the aristocracy from which both girls so courageously escaped.

In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markievicz

W.B. Yeats

The light of evening, Lissadell.

Great windows open to the south,

Two girls in silk kimonos, both

Beautiful, one a gazelle.

But a raving autumn shears

Blossom from the summer's wreath;

The older is condemned to death,

Pardoned, drags out lonely years

Conspiring among the ignorant.

I know not what the younger dreams -

Some vague Utopia - and she seems,

When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,

An image of such politics.

Many a time I think to seek

One or the other out and speak

Of that old Georgian mansion mix

Pictures of the mind, recall

That table and the talk of youth,

Two girls in silk kimonos, both

Beautiful, one a gazelle.

Dear shadows, now you know it all,

All the folly of a fight

With a common wrong or right.

The innocent and the beautiful

Have no enemy but time;

Arise and bid me strike a match

And strike another till time catch;

Should the conflagration climb,

Run till all the sages know.

We the great gazebo built,

They convicted us of guilt;

Bid me strike a match and blow.

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