A Man Young and Old (I-XI)
Though nurtured like the sailing moon
In beauty’s murderous brood,
She walked awhile and blushed awhile
Until I thought her body bore
A heart of flesh and blood.
But since I laid a hand thereon
And found a heart of stone
I have attempted many things
For every hand is lunatic
That travels on the moon.
She smiled and that transfigured me
Maundering here, and maundering there,
Than the heavenly circuit of its stars
Like the moon her kindness is,
What has no comprehension in’t,
As though my sorrow were a scene
So like a bit of stone I lie
I could recover if I shrieked
To passing bird, but I am dumb
From human dignity.
A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
The Death of the Hare (IV)
I have pointed out the yelling pack,
The hare leap to the wood,
And when I pass a compliment
At the drooping of an eye,
At the mantling of the blood.
Then suddenly my heart is wrung
And I remember wildness lost
And after, swept from there,
Am set down standing in the wood
At the death of the hare.
A crazy man that found a cup,
When all but dead of thirst,
Hardly dared to wet his mouth
And his beating heart would burst.
October last I found it too
But found it dry as bone,
And for that reason am I crazed
And my sleep is gone.
We should be hidden from their eyes,
And bodies broken like a thorn
Whereon the bleak north blows,
To think of buried Hector
And that none living knows.
The women take so little stock
They’d sooner leave their cosseting
My arms are like the twisted thorn
And yet there beauty lay;
The first of all the tribe lay there
And did such pleasure take —
She who had brought great Hector down
And put all Troy to wreck —
That she cried into this ear,
The Friends of his Youth (VII)
Laughter not time destroyed my voice
And put that crack in it,
And when the moon’s pot-bellied
For that old Madge comes down the lane,
And a cloak wrapped about the stone,
With singing hush and hush-a-bye;
And barren as a breaking wave
Thinks that the stone’s a child.
And Peter that had great affairs
Shrieks, “I am King of the Peacocks,”
And then I laugh till tears run down
And the heart thumps at my side,
Remembering that her shriek was love
And that he shrieks from pride.
We sat under an old thorn-tree
And talked away the night,
Told all that had been said or done
Since first we saw the light,
And when we talked of growing up
Knew that we’d halved a soul
And fell the one in t’other’s arms
That we might make it whole;
Then Peter had a murdering look,
For it seemed that he and she
Had spoken of their childish days
O what a bursting out there was,
When we had all the summer-time
And she had all the spring!
The Secrets of the Old (IX)
I have old women’s secrets now
That had those of the young;
Madge tells me what I dared not think
When my blood was strong,
And what had drowned a lover once
Though Margery is stricken dumb
If thrown in Madge’s way,
We three make up a solitude;
Can know the stories that we know
Or say the things we say:
How such a man pleased women most
How such a pair loved many years
Stories of the bed of straw
O bid me mount and sail up there
For Peg and Meg and Paris’ love
That had so straight a back,
Are gone away, and some that stay
Have changed their silk for sack.
Were I but there and none to hear
For that is natural to a man
Being all alone I’d nurse a stone
And sing it lullaby.
From “Oedipus at Colonus” (XI)
Endure what life God gives and ask no longer span;
Cease to remember the delights of youth, travel-wearied aged man;
Delight becomes death-longing if all longing else be vain.
Even from that delight memory treasures so,
Death, despair, division of families, all entanglements of mankind grow,
As that old wandering beggar and these God-hated children know.
In the long echoing street the laughing dancers throng,
The bride is carried to the bridegroom’s chamber through torchlight and tumultuous song;
I celebrate the silent kiss that ends short life or long.
Never to have lived is best, ancient writers say;
Never to have drawn the breath of life, never to have looked into the eye of day;
The second best’s a gay goodnight and quickly turn away.
A Closer Look:
In May 1927, The London Mercury published ‘Two Songs from the Old Countryman’, and together with ‘More Songs from an Old Countryman’, they became ‘The Old Countryman found in October Blast in August, 1927. In same issue of The London Mercury, these lyrics were juxtaposed with ‘Four Songs from the Young Countryman’ which was collected as ‘The Young Countryman’ in October Blast. ‘Young Countryman’ poems became poems I-IV while ‘The Old Countryman’ became poems V-IX when Yeats arranged final ten lyrics as ‘A Man Young and Old’ found in The Tower
The Fool by the Roadside (Second part of: The Hero the Girl and the Fool)
WHEN all works that have
From cradle run to grave
From grave to cradle run instead;
When thoughts that a fool
Has wound upon a spool
Are but loose thread, are but loose thread;
When cradle and spool are past
And I mere shade at last
Coagulate of stuff
Transparent like the wind,
I think that I may find
A faithful love, a faithful love.
This is yet another poem about aging. The AABCCB rhyme scheme conveys a moderate degree of childishness, but the six lines per stanza (rather than eight) make it slightly irregular, recalling the speaker’s identification with the fool who thinks that life can be spooled backwards as well as forwards. The speaker’s lack of balance also calls into question the idea that he might actually find true love, thereby contradicting the sentiment found in many of the other poems in the work.
A Closer Look:
In The Tower, as the volume is presented in Collected Poems (1933), Fragments (1931), is added, and The Hero, the Girl and the Fool is replaced by The Fool by the Roadside.
Appears in the first edition of A Vision in 1925 on page 219