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  • Yeats's best poem in my opinion and his only really great one.

    April 17, 2008

  • After the English executed the ringleaders of the failed uprising, public opinion shifted. Yeats wrote this poem:

    Easter, 1916.

    by William Butler Yeats

    I have met them at close of day

    Coming with vivid faces

    From counter or desk among grey

    Eighteenth-century houses.

    I have passed with a nod of the head

    Or polite meaningless words,

    Or have lingered awhile and said

    Polite meaningless words,

    And thought before I had done

    Of a mocking tale or a gibe

    To please a companion

    Around the fire at the club,

    Being certain that they and I

    But lived where motley is worn:

    All changed, changed utterly:

    A terrible beauty is born.

    That woman's days were spent

    In ignorant good-will,

    Her nights in argument

    Until her voice grew shrill.

    What voice more sweet than hers

    When, young and beautiful,

    She rode to harriers?

    This man had kept a school

    And rode our winged horse;

    This other his helper and friend

    Was coming into his force;

    He might have won fame in the end,

    So sensitive his nature seemed,

    So daring and sweet his thought.

    This other man I had dreamed

    A drunken, vainglorious lout.

    He had done most bitter wrong

    To some who are near my heart,

    Yet I number him in the song;

    He, too, has resigned his part

    In the casual comedy;

    He, too, has been changed in his turn,

    Transformed utterly:

    A terrible beauty is born.

    Hearts with one purpose alone

    Through summer and winter seem

    Enchanted to a stone

    To trouble the living stream.

    The horse that comes from the road.

    The rider, the birds that range

    From cloud to tumbling cloud,

    Minute by minute they change;

    A shadow of cloud on the stream

    Changes minute by minute;

    A horse-hoof slides on the brim,

    And a horse plashes within it;

    The long-legged moor-hens dive,

    And hens to moor-cocks call;

    Minute by minute they live:

    The stone's in the midst of all.

    Too long a sacrifice

    Can make a stone of the heart.

    O when may it suffice?

    That is Heaven's part, our part

    To murmur name upon name,

    As a mother names her child

    When sleep at last has come

    On limbs that had run wild.

    What is it but nightfall?

    No, no, not night but death;

    Was it needless death after all?

    For England may keep faith

    For all that is done and said.

    We know their dream; enough

    To know they dreamed and are dead;

    And what if excess of love

    Bewildered them till they died?

    I write it out in a verse -

    MacDonagh and MacBride

    And Connolly and Pearse

    Now and in time to be,

    Wherever green is worn,

    Are changed, changed utterly:

    A terrible beauty is born.

    April 17, 2008