Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
Just passed an exam on Yeats, so let’s celebrate with a nihilist, death-centered poem!
It’s the birthday of the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, the lifelong muse of poet W.B. Yeats, born in Surrey, England (1865). She and Yeats first met when they were both 25 years old. He fell in love with her immediately and remained in love for the rest of his life.
Maud Gonne was tall and exquisitely beautiful. Yeats wrote, “I had never thought to see in a living woman such great beauty. A complexion like the blossom of apples. Her movements were worthy of her form.”
Yeats asked her to marry him in 1891, but she refused. It was the first of many times that she rejected his marriage proposals. But they remained close to each other throughout their lives, and agreed that they had a “spiritual union.”
When Yeats met Gonne, she was actually in a secret relationship with a French political journalist, Lucien Millevoye, an older married man who had been her lover since she was 19. She had two children by him — the first died in infancy, and the second, Iseult Gonne, was referred to in Ireland as Maud’s niece, rather than her daughter. Yeats actually considered marrying Iseult, who was also a great beauty. In 1903, Maud married the Irish revolutionary John MacBride, a man Yeats considered somewhat crude. Their marriage was an unhappy one, and they separated. MacBride later participated in the Easter Rising of 1916 and was executed by a firing squad.
In response to one of Yeats’ many marriage proposals, Maud Gonne told him, “You would not be happy with me. … You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry.”
In 1911, she wrote a letter to him and said, “Our children were your poems of which I was the father sowing the unrest & storm which made them possible & you the mother who brought them forth in suffering & in the highest beauty.”
He wrote many poems for her, including “When You are Old” and “Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.”
How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!