79 years ago…

79 years ago...
January 28, 1939. The world mourns the death of no other than William Butler Yeats. A poet that still forms a source of inspiration for many writers and poets. What is a better way to commemorate this poet than with the poem Under Ben Bulben?
Burial of W.B. Yeats
The Irish Independent September 1948
Source: Dublin City Council

January 28, 1939. The world mourns the death of no other than William Butler Yeats. A poet that still forms a source of inspiration for many writers and poets. What is a better way to commemorate this poet than with the poem Under Ben Bulben?

Yeats died on January 28, 1939 in France (Roquebrune). He was burried here. In 1948 his remains were reburied in Ireland.

His last poem

This was one of the last poems, written by Ireland’s most famous poet. The poem or parts of it formed the basis of other literary masterpieces. The French writer Michel Déon used the last part of the poem for his book Horseman, Pass By! Larry McMurtry Horseman, Pass By was also inspired by this poem.

William Butler Yeats
Yeats in 1933.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ben Bulben, Benbulbin or Benbulben is a rock formation that is located in the Irish county Sligo. Since the poem Yeats left us, it is also known as Yeats Country. Nowadays, this part of Ireland is protected as it holds the title County Geological Site by Sligo County Council.

As it is one of the sources of inspiration for Yeats to write about, it is more than logical that this poet is buried in Drumcliffe Churchyard. This graveyard is located near Ben Bulben.

This is the epitaph or headstone that the poet wrote for himself. In a way, it is not only that. It is more: a brief –poetical- journey through the history of Ireland. Even the mystical parts of Irish history are part of this poem.

There is also a part of this poem, that reminds others there is more to do. The comparison to Michelangelo sets the task for poets to start writing. And then there is the sixth part of this magnificent poem. In this part, we can read Yeats reflecting his own life. At this moment, he did not only show his writing skills and the ability to self-reflect. Oh no, he did so much more. This is the fact that he wrote beyond the grave… while still being alive! It is therefore, that his gravestone includes the following text:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
The grave of Yates
The grave of Yeats at Drumecliff.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Under Ben Bulben

 

I

Swear by what the sages spoke
Round the Mareotic Lake
That the Witch of Atlas knew,
Spoke and set the cocks a-crow.

 

Swear by those horsemen, by those women
Complexion and form prove superhuman,
That pale, long-visaged company
That air in immortality
Completeness of their passions won;
Now they ride the wintry dawn
Where Ben Bulben sets the scene.

 

Here’s the gist of what they mean.

 

II

Many times man lives and dies
Between his two eternities,
That of race and that of soul,
And ancient Ireland knew it all.
Whether man die in his bed
Or the rifle knocks him dead,
A brief parting from those dear
Is the worst man has to fear.
Though grave-diggers’ toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscles strong.
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again.

 

III

You that Mitchel’s prayer have heard,
‘Send war in our time, O Lord!’
Know that when all words are said
And a man is fighting mad,
Something drops from eyes long blind,
He completes his partial mind,
For an instant stands at ease,
Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.
Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.

 

IV

Poet and sculptor, do the work,
Nor let the modish painter shirk
What his great forefathers did.
Bring the soul of man to God,
Make him fill the cradles right.

 

Measurement began our might:
Forms a stark Egyptian thought,
Forms that gentler Phidias wrought.

 

Michael Angelo left a proof
On the Sistine Chapel roof,
Where but half-awakened Adam
Can disturb globe-trotting Madam
Till her bowels are in heat,
proof that there’s a purpose set
Before the secret working mind:
Profane perfection of mankind.

 

Quattrocento put in paint
On backgrounds for a God or Saint
Gardens where a soul’s at ease;
Where everything that meets the eye,
Flowers and grass and cloudless sky,
Resemble forms that are or seem
When sleepers wake and yet still dream.
And when it’s vanished still declare,
With only bed and bedstead there,
That heavens had opened.

 

Gyres run on;

 

When that greater dream had gone
Calvert and Wilson, Blake and Claude,
repared a rest for the people of God,
Palmer’s phrase, but after that
Confusion fell upon our thought.

 

V

Irish poets, learn your trade,
Sing whatever is well made,
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top,
Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base-born products of base beds.
Sing the peasantry, and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen,
The holiness of monks, and after
Porter-drinkers’ randy laughter;
Sing the lords and ladies gay
That were beaten into the clay
Through seven heroic centuries;
Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry.

 

VI

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

 

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

 

— William Butler Yeats

Title
79 years ago...
Article Name
79 years ago...
Summary
The last poem written by Willliam Butler Yeats. This is the final poem, with all the magnificent elements that defined Yeats!
Author
Publisher Name
The Ministry of Poetic Affairs

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