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All Souls' Night -- a Poetry Friday Post

Poetry Friday, late October. What could be better than a Halloween-y poem?

Last year for Halloween, I favored you with an original Halloween poem that I wrote when I was very young. Let's just say it's from somewhere around 1970 and leave it at that, shall we?

Here is a poem that is much, much older from William Butler Yeats. This one, called All Souls' Day, is the last poem from a collection of poems entitled The Tower. Often seen as describing a man sitting at home remembering lost friends on All Souls' Night, Yeats may have seen it as something slightly more tangible, given his dabbling with the occult and his membership in the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn.

The poem consists of ten stanzas, each bearing ten lines, although it is also sometimes written without the separation between stanzas. I've chosen to use the separated stanzas here in order to highlight the internal rhyme structure of the piece: Each stanza follows the pattern ABCABCDEED, with occasional use of slant rhyme (e.g., the first stanza's use of "room" and "come" or the eighth stanza's use of "out" and "thought"). Although I've highlighted Yeats's rhyme scheme here, you really won't hear it if you read the poem aloud, although the repetition of sounds will make the poem easy on your ears, because when reading Yeats, you should read to the punctuation. So the first two lines would be read as follows:

Midnight has come,
and the great Christ Church Bell, and may a lesser bell, sound through the room


{Epilogue to 'A Vision'}

by W.B. Yeats

Midnight has come, and the great Christ Church Bell
And may a lesser bell sound through the room;
And it is All Souls' Night,
And two long glasses brimmed with muscatel
Bubble upon the table. A ghost may come;
For it is a ghost's right,
His element is so fine
Being sharpened by his death,
To drink from the wine-breath
While our gross palates drink from the whole wine.

I need some mind that, if the cannon sound
From every quarter of the world, can stay
Wound in mind's pondering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound;
Because I have a marvellous thing to say,
A certain marvellous thing
None but the living mock,
Though not for sober ear;
It may be all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Horton's the first I call. He loved strange thought
And knew that sweet extremity of pride
That's called platonic love,
And that to such a pitch of passion wrought
Nothing could bring him, when his lady died,
Anodyne for his love.
Words were but wasted breath;
One dear hope had he:
The inclemency
Of that or the next winter would be death.

Two thoughts were so mixed up I could not tell
Whether of her or God he thought the most,
But think that his mind's eye,
When upward turned, on one sole image fell;
And that a slight companionable ghost,
Wild with divinity,
Had so lit up the whole
Immense miraculous house
The Bible promised us,
It seemed a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

On Florence Emery I call the next,
Who finding the first wrinkles on a face
Admired and beautiful,
And knowing that the future would be vexed
With 'minished beauty, multiplied commonplace,
preferred to teach a school
Away from neighbour or friend,
Among dark skins, and there
permit foul years to wear
Hidden from eyesight to the unnoticed end.

Before that end much had she ravelled out
From a discourse in figurative speech
By some learned Indian
On the soul's journey. How it is whirled about,
Wherever the orbit of the moon can reach,
Until it plunge into the sun;
And there, free and yet fast,
Being both Chance and Choice,
Forget its broken toys
And sink into its own delight at last.

And I call up MacGregor from the grave,
For in my first hard springtime we were friends.
Although of late estranged.
I thought him half a lunatic, half knave,
And told him so, but friendship never ends;
And what if mind seem changed,
And it seem changed with the mind,
When thoughts rise up unbid
On generous things that he did
And I grow half contented to be blind!

He had much industry at setting out,
Much boisterous courage, before loneliness
Had driven him crazed;
For meditations upon unknown thought
Make human intercourse grow less and less;
They are neither paid nor praised.
but he d object to the host,
The glass because my glass;
A ghost-lover he was
And may have grown more arrogant being a ghost.

But names are nothing. What matter who it be,
So that his elements have grown so fine
The fume of muscatel
Can give his sharpened palate ecstasy
No living man can drink from the whole wine.
I have mummy truths to tell
Whereat the living mock,
Though not for sober ear,
For maybe all that hear
Should laugh and weep an hour upon the clock.

Such thought -- such thought have I that hold it tight
Till meditation master all its parts,
Nothing can stay my glance
Until that glance run in the world's despite
To where the damned have howled away their hearts,
And where the blessed dance;
Such thought, that in it bound
I need no other thing,
Wound in mind's wandering
As mummies in the mummy-cloth are wound.

And now for something completely different:

Moving away from dead Irish Nobel laureates, I'll close with this traditional Scottish blessing that I so love for its wonderfully poetic descriptions:

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 27th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)

The books have arrived! Thank you!!!

I talked to the ed director and she is going to try to arrange to let the women have the writing mags in their unit! That will be so cool.

Oct. 27th, 2006 02:58 pm (UTC)
I was hoping there might be an exception for magazines, although then I idly wondered whether the staples in them are problematic, since both The Writer and Writer's Digest have them.

I'm so glad they arrived. I hope you get to go to the play!
Oct. 27th, 2006 02:24 pm (UTC)
Great choices!!!
Oct. 27th, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I loved Yeats when I was in college -- his cyclical theory of history, etc. Although 2000 has come and gone and I'm not sure there's been any divine conception. Then again, maybe word of it just takes a while to get around . . .
Oct. 27th, 2006 03:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah--if so, he's just a wee one still!!
Oct. 28th, 2006 01:24 pm (UTC)
I love this. The Yeats... just fantastic.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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