W. B. Yeats

2 posts

Erin Go Bragh (And Other Words to Raise Your Ire)

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, which can only mean three things: William, Butler, and Yeats. (You were expecting corned beef, potatoes, and beer?)

One of my favorite lesser-known W. B. Yeats poems is the sonnet “Never Give All the Heart,” which was introduced to me via a Chieftains album (I think there are 573, so don’t ask me which one). Unlike Yeats’ more familiar works, this poem does not demand the experts’ attentions so much or wind up on many syllabi, but I like its homespun lesson and how it speaks to and from the young:


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.


Lesson #1, lads? Passionate women won’t give you a second thought if your love is taken for granted. No, “everything that’s lovely is / But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.” Maybe one of my favorite lines of all time because I like its feel on the tongue and even better on the the ears.

Plus, “delight” is one of those words poetry’s Praetorian Guard has forbidden poets like me to use. Screw ’em. I have and I will.

Back to never giving all (key word) of your heart: When it comes to love, you have to be a cool cat. You can’t play your part very well “If deaf and dumb and blind with love.” Alliteration. Polysyndeton. But really, who marks such rhetorical flourishes when letting lines like that wash over them?

And the final rhyming couplet of the sonnet? It establishes this particular rube’s expertise. Who could write such a brief lesson on love but one who learned the hard way, one who “gave all his heart and lost”? Better to keep a small part of your love to yourself.

Giving it all to another person like a lovesick fool will leave you bereft if the relationship hits the shoals. Protect yourself, then. Love the next one 90% — 91, tops. That way you’ll have something to hold on to if she leaves.

Romantic with a capital “R”? I’ll say. But in my day, I have always leaned this way.

As for the Chieftains, I did a little I-Tube, YouTube, we all Tube research and found it was none other than Brenda Fricker and Anúna that put the 1904 poem to song.

Erin Go Bragh, is all I can say.

Random Thoughts on the Eve of Easter

  • The front page of newspapers is bad for writing poetry, especially these days.
  • So is watching 60 Minutes, where the forecast is mostly Stormy. It all clouds the brain. Anger “trumps” creativity every time. Turn off your TV, writers!
  • If you’re bringing your muse in for a check-up by telling friends you just don’t get ideas anymore, you’ve got more than mechanical problems.
  • Photography before, during, and after serving as president will age a person’s face. Photos of Abraham Lincoln, poor man, attest to that. The only other known ager of men is the poetry market, where you can grow a 5-year-wrinkle just waiting for replies.
  • For most occasions, “replies” being loosely defined as form e-mails.
  • March is down to but a few days of lambdom. Then it’s April, the month T.S. Eliot ruined forever by turning it into a cruller. No, wait. A misspelled crueller (sic) month.
  • (Yes, Virginia, it sometimes snows in April.)
  • It think it was Basho who once said (in 17 syllables) that selling poetry books is like selling winter coats in July. Renga that.
  • I once worked in the marketing department of a corporation. The line there was “pennies a day, Mr. Customer. Pennies a day.” So the next time someone looks at the price of poetry books in alarm ($15 for just 85 pages?), remind them that it is but 4/10ths of a cent a day.
  • Plus, unlike today’s newspaper, it rereads nicely. For years!
  • And you thought all the deals were at Target!
  • Almost Easter, which forever reminds me of W. B. Yeats “Easter, 1916,” which (while we’re talking risings) in turn leads me to his poem “The Second Coming” with its iconic lines: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;”
  • Ordinarily that would be good enough to secure “The Second Coming’s” place among most-quoted poems or poems who gave other writers book-title material, but the poem contains yet one more gem: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
  • I once went slouching towards Bridgeport. Does that count?
  • Just finished reading Marie Howe’s debut poetry collection, The Good Thief, which is not as strong as her later collection What the Living Do. The good news? I can learn as much from one as the other.
  • Why are so many holidays marked by sugar? With Easter upon us, I think of chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies, and (God save us all) peeps. Halloween? Nothing but door-to-door candy robberies. Valentine’s Day? Love plays second fiddle to sweets, Sweetie. Christmas? Cookies and candies and cakes, oh my! The sugar industry has done something right.
  • Opening Day in baseball is today. It’s as much a marker of spring as the redwing blackbirds I hear out back.
  • The problem with gift certificates to bookstores, online or brick and mortar, is spending them. Like Christmas Eve, anticipation is what makes it. Once you buy books, you inevitably bring them home, sometimes to never read them, sometimes to read them and get disappointed. Expectation is a tough character to match.
  • Spring also means my favorite made-up word: “mudluscious.” Any word e.e. cummings likes but autocorrect does not is OK by me.
  • If you celebrate Easter, “ham” it up. Me, I’m passing on the ham this year. You reach a point where you crave variety and throw yourself at a restaurant menu’s mercy.