The Tower

W.B. Yeats

Preview: Issue 1 of 8

Sailing to Byzantium


That is no country for old men. The young

In one another's arms, birds in the trees,

– Those dying generations – at their song,

The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

Fish flesh or fowl, commend all summer long

Whatever is begotten born and dies.

Caught in that sensual music all neglect

Monuments of unaging intellect.


An aged man is but a paltry thing,

A tattered coat upon a stick, unless

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing

For every tatter in its mortal dress,

Nor is there singing school but studying

Monuments of its own magnificence;

And therefore I have sailed the seas and come

To the holy city of Byzantium.


O sages standing in God's holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall,

Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,

And be the singing masters of my soul.

Consume my heart away; sick with desire

And fastened to a dying animal

It knows not what it is; and gather me

Into the artifice of eternity.


Once out of nature I shall never take

My bodily form from any natural thing,

But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling

To keep a drowsy emperor awake;

Or set upon a golden bough to sing

To lords and ladies of Byzantium

Of what is past, or passing, or to come.


The Tower


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, fantastical

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.


I pace upon the battlements and stare

On the foundations of a house, or where

Tree, like a sooty finger, starts from the 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 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.


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.


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