Saturday, March 19, 2011

What is Past, or Passing, or to Come

Byzantium sunset

Saturday is usually either Ranting Day or Poetry Day, depending on my mood. I’ve done my share of ranting recently, and neglected the poetry.

This is one of my all-time favorite poems, written by W.B. Yeats in 1926, when the poet was sixty years old. The mood for posting it was brought on by the writing of my previous essay.

Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

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 unageing 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.


Stanza 3: “Perne in a gyre” refers to a hawk (or more accurately, a honey-buzzard) flying in a spiral or helix.

Stanza 4: According to the poet, the form that “Grecian goldsmiths make” is a reference to a legend about the court of the Byzantine emperor. The tales describe a fabulous tree made of gold and silver, on whose boughs were perched mechanical singing birds.


blogagog said...

"Saturday is usually either Ranting Day or Poetry Day, depending on my mood."

Can't it be both?

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Islam sucks,
and they shouldn't attack Jews.

EJGB said...

Thus a man's brow brought to bear
on thoughts which only God can see
As fleeting as Spring's fragrant air
Himself, his own mortality.