The Author William Butler Yeats

The Grey Rock


    Poets with whom I learned my trade,
    Companions of the Cheshire Cheese,
    Here’s an old story I’ve re-made,
    Imagining ’twould better please
    Your ears than stories now in fashion,
    Though you may think I waste my breath
    Pretending that there can be passion
    That has more life in it than death,
    And though at bottling of your wine
    The bow-legged Goban had no say;
    The moral’s yours because it’s mine.

    When cups went round at close of day,
    Is not that how good stories run?
    Somewhere within some hollow hill,
    If books speak truth in Slievenamon,
    But let that be, the gods were still
    And sleepy, having had their meal,
    And smoky torches made a glare
    On painted pillars, on a deal
    Of fiddles and of flutes hung there
    By the ancient holy hands that brought them
    From murmuring Murias, on cups,
    Old Goban hammered them and wrought them,
    And put his pattern round their tops
    To hold the wine they buy of him.
    But from the juice that made them wise
    All those had lifted up the dim
    Imaginations of their eyes,
    For one that was like woman made
    Before their sleepy eyelids ran
    And trembling with her passion said,
    ‘Come out and dig for a dead man,
    Who’s burrowing somewhere in the ground,
    And mock him to his face and then
    Hollo him on with horse and hound,
    For he is the worst of all dead men.’

    We should be dazed and terror struck,
    If we but saw in dreams that room,
    Those wine-drenched eyes, and curse our luck
    That emptied all our days to come.
    I knew a woman none could please,
    Because she dreamed when but a child
    Of men and women made like these;
    And after, when her blood ran wild,
    Had ravelled her own story out,
    And said, ‘In two or in three years
    I need must marry some poor lout,’
    And having said it burst in tears.
    Since, tavern comrades, you have died,
    Maybe your images have stood,
    Mere bone and muscle thrown aside,
    Before that roomful or as good.
    You had to face your ends when young,
    ’Twas wine or women, or some curse,
    But never made a poorer song
    That you might have a heavier purse,
    Nor gave loud service to a cause
    That you might have a troop of friends.
    You kept the Muses’ sterner laws,
    And unrepenting faced your ends,
    And therefore earned the right, and yet
    Dowson and Johnson most I praise,
    To troop with those the world’s forgot,
    And copy their proud steady gaze.

    ‘The Danish troop was driven out
    Between the dawn and dusk,’ she said;
    ‘Although the event was long in doubt,
    Although the King of Ireland’s dead
    And half the kings, before sundown
    All was accomplished.’

                                            ‘When this day
    Murrough, the King of Ireland’s son,
    Foot after foot was giving way,
    He and his best troops back to back
    Had perished there, but the Danes ran,
    Stricken with panic from the attack,
    The shouting of an unseen man;
    And being thankful Murrough found,
    Led by a footsole dipped in blood
    That had made prints upon the ground,
    Where by old thorn trees that man stood;
    And though when he gazed here and there,
    He had but gazed on thorn trees, spoke,
    “Who is the friend that seems but air
    And yet could give so fine a stroke?”
    Thereon a young man met his eye,
    Who said, “Because she held me in
    Her love, and would not have me die,
    Rock-nurtured Aoife took a pin,
    And pushing it into my shirt,
    Promised that for a pin’s sake,
    No man should see to do me hurt;
    But there it’s gone; I will not take
    The fortune that had been my shame
    Seeing, King’s son, what wounds you have.”
    ’Twas roundly spoke, but when night came
    He had betrayed me to his grave,
    For he and the King’s son were dead.
    I’d promised him two hundred years,
    And when for all I’d done or said,
    And these immortal eyes shed tears,
    He claimed his country’s need was most,
    I’d saved his life, yet for the sake
    Of a new friend he has turned a ghost.
    What does he care if my heart break?
    I call for spade and horse and hound
    That we may harry him.’ Thereon
    She cast herself upon the ground
    And rent her clothes and made her moan:
    ‘Why are they faithless when their might
    Is from the holy shades that rove
    The grey rock and the windy light?
    Why should the faithfullest heart most love
    The bitter sweetness of false faces?
    Why must the lasting love what passes,
    Why are the gods by men betrayed!’

    But thereon every god stood up
    With a slow smile and without sound,
    And stretching forth his arm and cup
    To where she moaned upon the ground,
    Suddenly drenched her to the skin;
    And she with Goban’s wine adrip,
    No more remembering what had been,
    Stared at the gods with laughing lip.

    I have kept my faith, though faith was tried,
    To that rock-born, rock-wandering foot,
    And the world’s altered since you died,
    And I am in no good repute
    With the loud host before the sea,
    That think sword strokes were better meant
    Than lover’s music, let that be,
    So that the wandering foot’s content.


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