Jun. 13, 2008

A Drinking Song

by William Butler Yeats

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

by William Butler Yeats

Never give all the heart

by William Butler Yeats

A Drinking Song

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.

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Never give all the heart

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

"A Drinking Song" by William Butler Yeats, Public Domain.
"He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" by W.B. Yeats, Public Domain.
"Never give all the heart" by W.B. Yeats, Public Domain.

It's the birthday of Armenian-American poet Peter Balakian, (books by this author) born in Teaneck, New Jersey (1951). Balakian's poetry and memoir entitled Black Dog of Fate (1997) deal with issues of loss — of his father and of his Armenian heritage. He explores his grandmother's harrowing flight from Armenia during the Turkish oppression and genocide of the early 1900s.

It's the birthday of Canadian poet Jay Macpherson, (books by this author) born Jean Jay Macpherson in London (1931). She moved to Canada when she was nine. Macpherson is best known for her poetry collections The Boatman (1957) and Welcoming Disaster (1974). She is identified with the mythopoeic literary movement in Canada, along with Northrop Frye, James Reaney, Daryl Hine, and Margaret Atwood, who was a student of Macpherson's. Hine and Macpherson are the only two Canadian poets to be included in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon (1994).

Macpherson explored myths as the foundation of human experience in her poetry. The Boatman centers on the metaphor of the Biblical flood; Welcoming Disaster is a journey through the underworld.

Macpherson said, "Canadian literature is without strong individual characters on the whole, being much more forceful in its presentation of settings. Man appears rather generalized: what has character is the wilderness, the city, the snow, the sea."

It's the birthday of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, (books by this author) born in Sandymount, Ireland, a suburb of Dublin (1865). Yeats was Anglo-Irish, meaning his family belonged to the ruling minority in Ireland. The Anglo-Irish were a Protestant upper class that still felt strong ties to England, unlike the largely Catholic and often disenfranchised lower classes. But Yeats always felt a strong connection to Ireland. He was especially captivated by the landscape of County Sligo in northwestern Ireland, where his mother's relatives lived.

His father, John B. Yeats, was a painter, and he moved the family to London when William was three. Yeats hated London and didn't do well in school. He was half-blind in one eye and far more interested in daydreaming than learning to read. He always felt spiritually at home in Sligo. The family moved back to Ireland, to Howth on Dublin Bay, in 1880. Five years later, the Dublin University Review published his first two poems.

Yeats became interested in Eastern philosophy and formed the Hermetic Society in Dublin. Mysticism and occultism held a strong attraction for the young poet. Yeats also joined Irish nationalist circles at this time; he believed the Irish and Anglo-Irish could be united under a rich, mystical Celtic heritage. "We might bring the halves together if we had a national literature that made Ireland beautiful in the memory, and yet had been freed from provincialism by an exacting criticism, [a] European pose."

Yeats' first published volume of poetry, The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems (1889), brought a young woman to his door named Maud Gonne. His yearning for Maud and his inability of attaining her would haunt him almost all his life. He proposed in 1891 and again in 1916 and was refused both times.

Because Yeats strove for simplicity and lack of abstraction in form but mysticism and a good deal of abstraction in content, his art was constantly struggling against itself. He embraced this tension and opposition: "We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy." Yeats founded the National Literary Society and what would become the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. J.M. Synge and Ezra Pound were close friends. Yeats received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923. He also served as an Irish Free State senator for six years.

William Butler Yeats, who wrote, "We begin to live when we have conceived life as tragedy."

The Easter Rising in Dublin prompted Yeats' poem "Easter 1916." Some of his most famous works, including "Sailing to Byzantium," "Among School Children," and "Leda and the Swan," were published in The Tower (1928). The visionary poem "The Second Coming" was published in 1921.

Yeats said, "I think all happiness depends on the energy to assume the mask of some other life, on a re-birth as something not one's self."

His famous epitaph reads, "Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, pass by!"

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show