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Michael Robartes and the Dancer

by William Butler Yeats

Portrait sketch of William Butler Yeats in 1908
by John Singer Sargeant. Click for a larger image.

Cuala Press (1921)

edited for the Web by
John Mark Ockerbloom,
February 16th, 1998

. Michael Robartes and the Dancer

    He. Opinion is not worth a rush;
    In this altar-piece the knight,
    Who grips his long spear so to push
    That dragon through the fading light,
    Loved the lady; and it's plain
    The half-dead dragon was her thought,
    That every morning rose again
    And dug its claws and shrieked and fought.
    Could the impossible come to pass
    She would have time to turn her eyes,
    Her lover thought, upon the glass
    And on the instant would grow wise.

    She. You mean they argued.

    He.                                      Put it so;
    But bear in mind your lover's wage
    Is what your looking-glass can show,
    And that he will turn green with rage
    At all that is not pictured there.

    She. May I not put myself to college?

    He. Go pluck Athena by the hair;
    For what mere book can grant a knowledge
    With an impassioned gravity
    Appropriate to that beating breast,
    That vigorous thigh, that dreaming eye?
    And may the devil take the rest.

    She. And must no beautiful woman be
    Learned like a man?

    He.                          Paul Veronese
    And all his sacred company
    Imagined bodies all their days
    By the lagoon you love so much,
    For proud, soft, ceremonious proof
    That all must come to sight and touch;
    While Michael Angelo's Sistine roof
    His 'Morning' and his 'Night' disclose
    How sinew that has been pulled tight,
    Or it may be loosened in repose,
    Can rule by supernatural right
    Yet be but sinew.

    She.                    I have heard said
    There is great danger in the body.

    He. Did God in portioning wine and bread
    Give man His thought or His mere body?

    She. My wretched dragon is perplexed.

    He. I have principles to prove me right.
    It follows from this Latin text
    That blest souls are not composite,
    And that all beautiful women may
    Live in uncomposite blessedness,
    And lead us to the like -- if they
    Will banish every thought, unless
    The lineaments that please their view
    When the long looking-glass is full,
    Even from the foot-sole think it too.

    She. They say such different things at school.

    William Butler Yeats

. Solomon and the Witch

    AND thus declared that Arab lady:
    'Last night, where under the wild moon
    On grassy mattress I had laid me,
    Within my arms great Solomon,
    I suddenly cried out in a strange tongue
    Not his, not mine.'
                                 And he that knew
    All sounds by bird or angel sung
    Answered: 'A crested cockerel crew
    Upon a blossoming apple bough
    Three hundred years before the Fall,
    And never crew again till now,
    And would not now but that he thought,
    Chance being at one with Choice at last,
    All that the brigand apple brought
    And this foul world were dead at last.
    He that crowed out eternity
    Thought to have crowed it in again.
    A lover with a spider's eye
    Will find out some appropriate pain,
    Aye, though all passion's in the glance,
    For every nerve: lover tests lover
    With cruelties of Choice and Chance;
    And when at last that murder's over
    Maybe the bride-bed brings despair
    For each an imagined image brings
    And finds a real image there;
    Yet the world ends when these two things,
    Though several, are a single light,
    When oil and wick are burned in one;
    Therefore a blessed moon last night
    Gave Sheba to her Solomon.'
    'Yet the world stays':
                                      'If that be so,
    Your cockerel found us in the wrong
    Although he thought it worth a crow.
    Maybe an image is too strong
    Or maybe is not strong enough.'

    'The night has fallen; not a sound
    In the forbidden sacred grove
    Unless a petal hit the ground,
    Nor any human sight within it
    But the crushed grass where we have lain;
    And the moon is wilder every minute.
    Oh, Solomon! let us try again.'

    William Butler Yeats

. An Image from a Past Life

    He. Never until this night have I been stirred.
    The elaborate star-light has thrown reflections
    On the dark stream,
    Till all the eddies gleam;
    And thereupon there comes that scream
    From terrified, invisible beast or bird:
    Image of poignant recollection.

    She. An image of my heart that is smitten through
    Out of all likelihood, or reason,
    And when at last,
    Youth's bitterness being past,
    I had thought that all my days were cast
    Amid most lovely places; smitten as though
    It had not learned its lesson.

    He. Why have you laid your hands upon my eyes?
    What can have suddenly alarmed you
    Whereon 'twere best
    My eyes should never rest?
    What is there but the slowly fading west,
    The river imaging the flashing skies,
    All that to this moment charmed you?

    She. A sweetheart from another life floats there
    As though she had been forced to linger
    From vague distress
    Or arrogant loveliness,
    Merely to loosen out a tress
    Among the starry eddies of her hair
    Upon the paleness of a finger.

    He. But why should you grow suddenly afraid
    And start -- I at your shoulder --
    That any night could bring
    An image up, or anything
    Even to eyes that beauty had driven mad,
    But images to make me fonder.

    She. Now she has thrown her arms above her head;
    Whether she threw them up to flout me,
    Or but to find,
    Now that no fingers bind,
    That her hair streams upon the wind,
    I do not know, that know I am afraid
    Of the hovering thing night brought me.

    William Butler Yeats

. Under Saturn

    DO not because this day I have grown saturnine
    Imagine that some lost love, unassailable
    Being a portion of my youth, can make me pine
    And so forget the comfort that no words can tell
    Your coming brought; though I acknowledge that I have gone
    On a fantastic ride, my horse's flanks were spurred
    By childish memories of an old cross Pollexfen,
    And of a Middleton, whose name you never heard,
    And of a red-haired Yeats whose looks, although he died
    Before my time, seem like a vivid memory.
    You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said
    Upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay --
    No, no, not said, but cried it out -- 'You have come again
    And surely after twenty years it was time to come.'
    I am thinking of a child's vow sworn in vain
    Never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.

         November 1919

    William Butler Yeats

. Easter, 1916

    I HAVE met them at close of day
    Coming with vivid faces
    From counter or desk among grey
    Eighteenth-century houses.
    I have passed with a nod of the head
    Or polite meaningless words,
    Or have lingered awhile and said
    Polite meaningless words,
    And thought before I had done
    Of a mocking tale or a gibe
    To please a companion
    Around the fire at the club,
    Being certain that they and I
    But lived where motley is worn:
    All changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.

    That woman's days were spent
    In ignorant good will,
    Her nights in argument
    Until her voice grew shrill.
    What voice more sweet than hers
    When young and beautiful,
    She rode to harriers?
    This man had kept a school
    And rode our winged horse.
    This other his helper and friend
    Was coming into his force;
    He might have won fame in the end,
    So sensitive his nature seemed,
    So daring and sweet his thought.
    This other man I had dreamed
    A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
    He had done most bitter wrong
    To some who are near my heart,
    Yet I number him in the song;
    He, too, has resigned his part
    In the casual comedy;
    He, too, has been changed in his turn,
    Transformed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.

    Hearts with one purpose alone
    Through summer and winter seem
    Enchanted to a stone
    To trouble the living stream.
    The horse that comes from the road.
    The rider, the birds that range
    From cloud to tumbling cloud,
    Minute by minute change;
    A shadow of cloud on the stream
    Changes minute by minute;
    A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
    And a horse plashes within it
    Where long-legged moor-hens dive,
    And hens to moor-cocks call.
    Minute by minute they live:
    The stone's in the midst of all.

    Too long a sacrifice
    Can make a stone of the heart.
    O when may it suffice?
    That is heaven's part, our part
    To murmur name upon name,
    As a mother names her child
    When sleep at last has come
    On limbs that had run wild.
    What is it but nightfall?
    No, no, not night but death;
    Was it needless death after all?
    For England may keep faith
    For all that is done and said.
    We know their dream; enough
    To know they dreamed and are dead.
    And what if excess of love
    Bewildered them till they died?
    I write it out in a verse --
    MacDonagh and MacBride
    And Connolly and Pearse
    Now and in time to be,
    Wherever green is worn,
    Are changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.

          September 25, 1916

    William Butler Yeats

. Sixteen Dead Men

    O BUT we talked at large before
    The sixteen men were shot,
    But who can talk of give and take,
    What should be and what not?
    While those dead men are loitering there
    To stir the boiling pot.

    You say that we should still the land
    Till Germany's overcome;
    But who is there to argue that
    Now Pearse is deaf and dumb?
    And is their logic to outweigh
    MacDonagh's bony thumb?

    How could you dream they'd listen
    That have an ear alone
    For those new comrades they have found
    Lord Edward and Wolfe Tone,
    Or meddle with our give and take
    That converse bone to bone.

    William Butler Yeats

. The Rose Tree

    'O WORDS are lightly spoken'
    Said Pearse to Connolly,
    'Maybe a breath of politic words
    Has withered our Rose Tree;
    Or maybe but a wind that blows
    Across the bitter sea.'

    'It needs to be but watered,'
    James Connolly replied,
    'To make the green come out again
    And spread on every side,
    And shake the blossom from the bud
    To be the garden's pride.'

    'But where can we draw water'
    Said Pearse to Connolly,
    'When all the wells are parched away?
    O plain as plain can be
    There's nothing but our own red blood
    Can make a right Rose Tree.'

    William Butler Yeats

. On a Political Prisoner

    SHE that but little patience knew,
    From childhood on, had now so much
    A grey gull lost its fear and flew
    Down to her cell and there alit,
    And there endured her fingers touch
    And from her fingers ate its bit.

    Did she in touching that lone wing
    Recall the years before her mind
    Became a bitter, an abstract thing,
    Her thought some popular enmity:
    Blind and leader of the blind
    Drinking the foul ditch where they lie?

    When long ago I saw her ride
    Under Ben Bulban to the meet,
    The beauty of her country-side
    With all youth's lonely wildness stirred,
    She seemed to have grown clean and sweet
    Like any rock-bred, sea-borne bird:

    Sea-borne, or balanced on the air
    When first it sprang out of the nest
    Upon some lofty rock to stare
    Upon the cloudy canopy,
    While under its storm-beaten breast
    Cried out the hollows of the sea.

    William Butler Yeats

. The Leaders of the Crowd

    THEY must to keep their certainty accuse
    All that are different of a base intent;
    Pull down established honour; hawk for news
    Whatever their loose phantasy invent
    And murmur it with bated breath, as though
    The abounding gutter had been Helicon
    Or calumny a song. How can they know
    Truth flourishes where the student's lamp has shone,
    And there alone, that have no solitude?
    So the crowd come they care not what may come.
    They have loud music, hope every day renewed
    And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.

    William Butler Yeats

. Towards Break of Day

    Was it the double of my dream
    The woman that by me lay
    Dreamed, or did we halve a dream
    Under the first cold gleam of day?

    I thought 'there is a waterfall
    Upon Ben Bulban side,
    That all my childhood counted dear;
    Were I to travel far and wide
    I could not find a thing so dear.'
    My memories had magnified
    So many times childish delight.

    I would have touched it like a child
    But knew my finger could but have touched
    Cold stone and water. I grew wild
    Even accusing heaven because
    It had set down among its laws:
    Nothing that we love over-much
    Is ponderable to our touch.

    I dreamed towards break of day,
    The cold blown spray in my nostril.
    But she that beside me lay
    Had watched in bitterer sleep
    The marvellous stag of Arthur,
    That lofty white stag, leap
    From mountain steep to steep.

    William Butler Yeats

. Demon and Beast

    FOR certain minutes at the least
    That crafty demon and that loud beast
    That plague me day and night
    Ran out of my sight;
    Though I had long pernned in the gyre,
    Between my hatred and desire,
    I saw my freedom won
    And all laugh in the sun.

    The glittering eyes in a death's head
    Of old Luke Wadding's portrait said
    Welcome, and the Ormonds all
    Nodded upon the wall,
    And even Stafford smiled as though
    It made him happier to know
    I understood his plan;
    Now that the loud beast ran
    There was no portrait in the Gallery
    But beckoned to sweet company,
    For all men's thoughts grew clear
    Being dear as mine are dear.

    But soon a tear-drop started up
    For aimless joy had made me stop
    Beside the little lake
    To watch a white gull take
    A bit of bread thrown up into the air;
    Now gyring down and pernning there
    He splashed where an absurd
    Portly green-pated bird
    Shook off the water from his back;
    Being no more demoniac
    A stupid happy creature
    Could rouse my whole nature.

    Yet I am certain as can be
    That every natural victory
    Belongs to beast or demon,
    That never yet had freeman
    Right mastery of natural things,
    And that mere growing old, that brings
    Chilled blood, this sweetness brought;
    Yet have no dearer thought
    Than that I may find out a way
    To make it linger half a day.

    O what a sweetness strayed
    Through barren Thebaid,
    Or by the Mareotic sea
    When that exultant Anthony
    And twice a thousand more
    Starved upon the shore
    And withered to a bag of bones:
    What had the Caesars but their thrones?

    William Butler Yeats

. The Second Coming

    TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    William Butler Yeats

. A Prayer for My Daughter

    ONCE more the storm is howling and half hid
    Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
    My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
    But Gregory's Wood and one bare hill
    Whereby the haystack and roof-levelling wind,
    Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
    And for an hour I have walked and prayed
    Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

    I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
    And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
    And under the arches of the bridge, and scream
    In the elms above the flooded stream;
    Imagining in excited reverie
    That the future years had come,
    Dancing to a frenzied drum,
    Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

    May she be granted beauty and yet not
    Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,
    Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
    Being made beautiful overmuch,
    Consider beauty a sufficient end,
    Lose natural kindness and maybe
    The heart-revealing intimacy
    That chooses right and never find a friend.

    Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
    And later had much trouble from a fool,
    While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
    Being fatherless could have her way
    Yet chose a bandy-legged smith for man.
    It's certain that fine women eat
    A crazy salad with their meat
    Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

    In courtesy I'd have her chiefly learned;
    Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
    By those that are not entirely beautiful;
    Yet many, that have played the fool
    For beauty's very self, has charm made wise,
    And many a poor man that has roved,
    Loved and thought himself beloved,
    From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

    May she become a flourishing hidden tree
    That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
    And have no business but dispensing round
    Their magnanimities of sound,
    Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
    Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
    Oh, may she live like some green laurel
    Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

    My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
    The sort of beauty that I have approved,
    Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
    Yet knows that to be choked with hate
    May well be of all evil chances chief.
    If there's no hatred in a mind
    Assault and battery of the wind
    Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

    An intellectual hatred is the worst,
    So let her think opinions are accursed.
    Have I not seen the loveliest woman born
    Out of the mouth of Plenty's horn,
    Because of her opinionated mind
    Barter that horn and every good
    By quiet natures understood
    For an old bellows full of angry wind?

    Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
    The soul recovers radical innocence
    And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
    Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
    And that its own sweet will is heaven's will;
    She can, though every face should scowl
    And every windy quarter howl
    Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

    And may her bride-groom bring her to a house
    Where all's accustomed, ceremonious;
    For arrogance and hatred are the wares
    Peddled in the thoroughfares.
    How but in custom and in ceremony
    Are innocence and beauty born?
    Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
    And custom for the spreading laurel tree.

            June 1919

    William Butler Yeats

. A Meditation in Time of War

    FOR one throb of the Artery,
    While on that old grey stone I sat
    Under the old wind-broken tree,
    I knew that One is animate
    Mankind inanimate fantasy.

    William Butler Yeats

. To be Carved on a Stone at Ballylee

    I, THE poet William Yeats,
    With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
    And smithy work from the Gort forge,
    Restored this tower for my wife George;
    And may these characters remain
    When all is ruin once again.

    William Butler Yeats

This electronic edition was prepared by John Mark Ockerbloom and released February 16, 1998. Corrections may be sent to

This edition uses the text of the 1921 Cuala Press edition of Michael Robartes and the Dancer by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), as given in Allt and Alspach's Varorium Edition. Only the poems are given here; there are no notes, title pages, or other supplementary material in this electronic edition.

Because Yeats revised his poems after their 1921 publication, these poems may be somewhat different from the versions found in most modern anthologies.

The preparer of this edition believes the text to be in the public domain in the United States of America, but notes that it may still be copyrighted in some other countries. Consult local copyright laws before using or storing this text outside the USA.

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