“Take down this book…” William Butler Yeats

I had it memorized when I was an undergraduate, a little poem by Yeats that spoke of love and books and old age. Why I chose to commit this to memory, or why it chose me, I can’t remember. Perhaps I didn’t know even then. 

As a bookend to this Year of Poetry, I knew I wanted to come back to Yeats, the fellow whose bee loud glade had inspired this whole silly enterprise. To do that, the poem that returned from the land of far away was “When You Are Old.”

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”

Taken out of context, these thirty-odd posts about poetry are a little like that book on Yeats’ shelf, a poetic mirror to a year of life that in my corner of the universe was filled with more stress than some and benefitted to no end from the words of poets from across the decades and around the world. Whether it was Billy Collins’ wit or Maya Angelou’s soul, Alice Walker’s fire or Ted Hughes ice, the poems and poets that filled this year helped me slow down, reflect, and see my world (at least in a few stanzas) through different eyes.

I found comfort and challenge in these poets, “moments of glad grace” as Yeats describes it, and sometimes “Love fled.” And though I am not yet willing to class myself as “old and grey and full of sleep” as I look back at these posts, taking down this book of reflection on a cavalcade of poets, I am moved to read on. 

Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, George Herbert, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, so many didn’t make it off the shelf over the past few months, some because their collected works demand more than a week of perusal, some because they suggest summer days and reading beneath a blue sky. I’ll get to them in the next few weeks, even if I don’t scribble out reflections on them all.

And I end this year of poetry with a heartfelt thank you to anyone who has read along with my free-ranging thoughts on these good poets. Poetry is magical, and meaningful, and can make a difference. It has, and does, for me, and I hope to have captured some of that appreciation over the past few months.

COVID-19 inspired social distancing keeps me from going back to that hike at the coast where Yeats planted the seeds for this endeavor, but as I was taking the dog out to walk last week I was stopped short by a pair of bees buzzing around some flowers near my front door.

“Bee loud” I thought to myself. Full circle. There’s something poetic in that.

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2 thoughts on ““Take down this book…” William Butler Yeats

  1. Pingback: Poetry Kiosk | bjornpaige

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