One Poem at a Time -18-

 
 
“In Memory of W.B. Yeats” is a stellar example of a poem about poetry.  Upon the death of William Butler Yeats, Auden wrote this as a eulogy analyzing the relationship between the poet and the world, and, to some extent, it speaks to the question of what the value of poetry is. Auden presents poetry as an invocation of joy and reconciliation, able to transcend harsh political realities and the sterility of the intellect.  Juxtaposing the horrors of the Second World War with the image of happy Yeats being received into the earth, Auden reminds us that the poet’s duty is to teach men to rejoice and be hopeful, even in times when all seems dark.
 
 
                                                                       -Kevin
In Memory of W.B. Yeats

 

I

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
The snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

II

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

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1 Comment

Filed under Poetry Month 2010

One response to “One Poem at a Time -18-

  1. Lilly

    Kevin, Thank you for this. What a magnificent poem — and equally magnificent commentary. (“The sterility of intellect” — right on). I am moved — in fact, I’m not the same person I was two minutes ago when i began reading this poem. I’m one of many readers transformed and uplifted by the gift of Auden’s great talent.

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