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The Meditation of the Old Fisherman

    YOU waves, though you dance by my feet like children at play,
    Though you glow and you glance, though you purr and you dart;
    In the Junes that were warmer than these are, the waves were more gay,
    When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.

    The herring are not in the tides as they were of old;
    My sorrow! for many a creak gave the creel in the cart
    That carried the take to Sligo town to be sold,
    When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.

    And ah, you proud maiden, you are not so fair when his oar
    Is heard on the water, as they were, the proud and apart,
    Who paced in the eve by the nets on the pebbly shore,
    When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.

    William Butler Yeats

In Memory of Major Robert Gregory

    I

    NOW that we're almost settled in our house
    I'll name the friends that cannot sup with us
    Beside a fire of turf in th' ancient tower,
    And having talked to some late hour
    Climb up the narrow winding stairs to bed:
    Discoverers of forgotten truth
    Or mere companions of my youth,
    All, all are in my thoughts to-night being dead.

    II

    Always we'd have the new friend meet the old
    And we are hurt if either friend seem cold,
    And there is salt to lengthen out the smart
    In the affections of our heart,
    And quarrels are blown up upon that head;
    But not a friend that I would bring
    This night can set us quarrelling,
    For all that come into my mind are dead.

    III

    Lionel Johnson comes the first to mind,
    That loved his learning better than mankind.
    Though courteous to the worst; much falling he
    Brooded upon sanctity
    Till all his Greek and Latin learning seemed
    A long blast upon the horn that brought
    A little nearer to his thought
    A measureless consummation that he dreamed.

    IV

    And that enquiring man John Synge comes next,
    That dying chose the living world for text
    And never could have rested in the tomb
    But that, long travelling, he had come
    Towards nightfall upon certain set apart
    In a most desolate stony place,
    Towards nightfall upon a race
    Passionate and simple like his heart.

    V

    And then I think of old George Pollexfen,
    In muscular youth well known to Mayo men
    For horsemanship at meets or at racecourses,
    That could have shown how pure-bred horses
    And solid men, for all their passion, live
    But as the outrageous stars incline
    By opposition, square and trine;
    Having grown sluggish and contemplative.

    VI

    They were my close companions many a year.
    A portion of my mind and life, as it were,
    And now their breathless faces seem to look
    Out of some old picture-book;
    I am accustomed to their lack of breath,
    But not that my dear friend's dear son,
    Our Sidney and our perfect man,
    Could share in that discourtesy of death.

    VII

    For all things the delighted eye now sees
    Were loved by him: the old storm-broken trees
    That cast their shadows upon road and bridge;
    The tower set on the stream's edge;
    The ford where drinking cattle make a stir
    Nightly, and startled by that sound
    The water-hen must change her ground;
    He might have been your heartiest welcomer.

    VIII

    When with the Galway foxhounds he would ride
    From Castle Taylor to the Roxborough side
    Or Esserkelly plain, few kept his pace;
    At Mooneen he had leaped a place
    So perilous that half the astonished meet
    Had shut their eyes; and where was it
    He rode a race without a bit?
    And yet his mind outran the horses' feet.

    IX

    We dreamed that a great painter had been born
    To cold Clare rock and Galway rock and thorn,
    To that stern colour and that delicate line
    That are our secret discipline
    Wherein the gazing heart doubles her might.
    Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
    And yet he had the intensity
    To have published all to be a world's delight.

    X

    What other could so well have counselled us
    In all lovely intricacies of a house
    As he that practised or that understood
    All work in metal or in wood,
    In moulded plaster or in carven stone?
    Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
    And all he did done perfectly
    As though he had but that one trade alone.

    XI

    Some burn damp faggots, others may consume
    The entire combustible world in one small room
    As though dried straw, and if we turn about
    The bare chimney is gone black out
    Because the work had finished in that flare.
    Soldier, scholar, horseman, he,
    As 'twere all life's epitome.
    What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?
    XII

    I had thought, seeing how bitter is that wind
    That shakes the shutter, to have brought to mind
    All those that manhood tried, or childhood loved
    Or boyish intellect approved,
    With some appropriatc commentary on each;
    Until imagination brought
    A fitter welcome; but a thought
    Of that late death took all my heart for speech.

    William Butler Yeats


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