Swallow song

I have been rereading Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and have found myself as enthralled as Stephen Dedalus and Joyce himself by Yeat’s verse that Stephen quotes, Cathleen’s last words from the play, The Countess Cathleen. The whole chapter is full of references to the swallows. The words have stayed with me, and I am reproducing Cathleen’s short speech from the play. The fourteen lines that follow are my own.

Bend down your faces, Oona and Aleel;
I gaze upon them as the swallow gazes
Upon the nest under the eave, before
She wander the loud waters. Do not weep
Too great a while, for there is many a candle
On the High Altar though one fall. Aleel,
Who sang about the dancers of the woods,
That know not the hard burden of the world,
Having but breath in their kind bodies, farewell
And farewell, Oona, you who played with me,
And bore me in your arms about the house
When I was but a child and therefore happy,
Therefore happy, even like those that dance.
The storm is in my hair and I must go.

W.B. Yeats: The Countess Cathleen Scene 5.

Swallow song

I watch the swallow swoop above the grass,
Their wings as sharp as spearpoints, voices shrill
As children playing at their thoughtless games,
And wonder will they call back from the sea,
When storms sweep, tossing waves and bringing night
To hearts that only ever knew the summer sweet.
Will they call back to what they left behind,
The meadows rich with sun, the light that warmed
And danced with them the days the summer long,
That slip to autumn now that they are gone?
The wind wails cold among the darkening trees,
Cold the days to come, the candles dim,
When swallows flock to fly the waters loud
And leave me empty-eyed in this wild crowd.


A month with Yeats: Day Three

November Yeats Challenge was a feeble place-holder title that I’m getting rid of today. Same challenge, different title.

I had pulled out at least a month’s worth of lines from Yeats’ poetry when I saw the photo below on Paul Militaru’s photography blog a couple of days ago. I immediately thought of one of the lines I had selected.

“With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,”—W.B. Yeats

If you don’t want to be influenced by Paul’s photo, please close your eyes now.

Photo ©Paul Militaru


The old ones


They watch us when we are sleeping,

The old ones, when we walk,

The fields and the oak-hung paths.

They are there in the shallow pools

Of morning and evening,

Sunlight and moonlight,

And of all times, the fickle, vacillating dusk,

When time and tide and tomorrows mingle

In the heaving movement of the heavens.

Heavy with dust and distance,

They watch with their hooded eyes

And wait for the inevitable,

Widening crack in the carapace,

The grappling for the thread of faith,

When we too discover

That all things have an end.

November Yeats Challenge: Day Two

Another darkly mysterious quote for the dark season. There may be a name for the form my poem has taken—8 8 8 4 8 8 8 4 8 8 8 8 4—but if there is I don’t know it. Feel free to use it, or a variant of it with a rhyme scheme perhaps.

I’m posting this one in the dverse open link night. I am dedicating this month to Yeats, a line every day, so look in and be inspired.


“… the dark folk who live in souls
Of passionate men, like bats in the dead trees;” —W.B. Yeats


They are there at break of day


They are there at the break of day,

As they were when the sun went down,

The paper whispered voices of

Our secrets dark.


In the stirred river-bottom mud,

As in the chill between the stars,

The airless catch in the throat, lie

The ghosts of loss.


Yet when the sun goes down I hear,

Or seem to, beating in the air,

Like the soft wings of the robin,

The plush bestirrings of the bat,

Sighs of regret.




For the dverse open night. A poem that is a clin-d’œil to WB Yeats, as if you wouldn’t have noticed.


The silent-most time of day, is this,

the hush before unholy street lights

burst into their orange flame

and draw the crowds outdoors like noisy moths.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

I’d wrap this moment in the hues of half-light

and sing it gentle songs of twilight

and keep it safe through darkest midnight,

unwrap it in the melting dawnlight,

when the soft hush falls again

into the dew-damp world.