The Author William Butler Yeats

The Hour Before Dawn

by


    A one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed man,
    A bundle of rags upon a crutch,
    Stumbled on windy Cruachan
    Cursing the wind. It was as much
    As the one sturdy leg could do
    To keep him upright while he cursed.
    He had counted, where long years ago
    Queen Maeve’s nine Maines had been nursed,
    A pair of lapwings, one old sheep,
    And not a house to the plain’s edge,
    When close to his right hand a heap
    Of grey stones and a rocky ledge
    Reminded him that he could make,
    If he but shifted a few stones,
    A shelter till the daylight broke.
    But while he fumbled with the stones
    They toppled over; ‘Were it not
    I have a lucky wooden shin
    I had been hurt’; and toppling brought
    Before his eyes, where stones had been,
    A dark deep hole in the rock’s face.
    He gave a gasp and thought to run,
    Being certain it was no right place
    But the Hell Mouth at Cruachan
    That’s stuffed with all that’s old and bad,
    And yet stood still, because inside
    He had seen a red-haired jolly lad
    In some outlandish coat beside
    A ladle and a tub of beer,
    Plainly no phantom by his look.
    So with a laugh at his own fear
    He crawled into that pleasant nook.
    Young Red-head stretched himself to yawn
    And murmured, ‘May God curse the night
    That’s grown uneasy near the dawn
    So that it seems even I sleep light;
    And who are you that wakens me?
    Has one of Maeve’s nine brawling sons
    Grown tired of his own company?
    But let him keep his grave for once
    I have to find the sleep I have lost.’
    And then at last being wide awake,
    ‘I took you for a brawling ghost,
    Say what you please, but from daybreak
    I’ll sleep another century.’
    The beggar deaf to all but hope
    Went down upon a hand and knee
    And took the wooden ladle up
    And would have dipped it in the beer
    But the other pushed his hand aside,
    ‘Before you have dipped it in the beer
    That sacred Goban brewed,’ he cried,
    ‘I’d have assurance that you are able
    To value beer, I will have no fool
    Dipping his nose into my ladle
    Because he has stumbled on this hole
    In the bad hour before the dawn.
    If you but drink that beer and say
    I will sleep until the winter’s gone,
    Or maybe, to Midsummer Day
    You will sleep that length; and at the first
    I waited so for that or this,
    Because the weather was a-cursed
    Or I had no woman there to kiss,
    And slept for half a year or so;
    But year by year I found that less
    Gave me such pleasure I’d forgo
    Even a half hour’s nothingness,
    And when at one year’s end I found
    I had not waked a single minute,
    I chose this burrow under ground.
    I will sleep away all Time within it:
    My sleep were now nine centuries
    But for those mornings when I find
    The lapwing at their foolish cries
    And the sheep bleating at the wind
    As when I also played the fool.’
    The beggar in a rage began
    Upon his hunkers in the hole,
    ‘It’s plain that you are no right man
    To mock at everything I love
    As if it were not worth the doing.
    I’d have a merry life enough
    If a good Easter wind were blowing,
    And though the winter wind is bad
    I should not be too down in the mouth
    For anything you did or said
    If but this wind were in the south.’
    But the other cried, ‘You long for spring
    Or that the wind would shift a point
    And do not know that you would bring,
    If time were suppler in the joint,
    Neither the spring nor the south wind
    But the hour when you shall pass away
    And leave no smoking wick behind,
    For all life longs for the Last Day
    And there’s no man but cocks his ear
    To know when Michael’s trumpet cries
    That flesh and bone may disappear,
    And souls as if they were but sighs,
    And there be nothing but God left;
    But I alone being blessed keep
    Like some old rabbit to my cleft
    And wait Him in a drunken sleep.’

    He dipped his ladle in the tub
    And drank and yawned and stretched him out.
    The other shouted, ‘You would rob
    My life of every pleasant thought
    And every comfortable thing
    And so take that and that.’ Thereon
    He gave him a great pummelling,
    But might have pummelled at a stone
    For all the sleeper knew or cared;
    And after heaped the stones again
    And cursed and prayed, and prayed and cursed:
    ‘Oh God if he got loose!’ And then
    In fury and in panic fled
    From the Hell Mouth at Cruachan
    And gave God thanks that overhead
    The clouds were brightening with the dawn.

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